Anemia in Dogs, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Complications

Anemia in Dogs
Anemia in Dogs

Anemia in dogs is a treatable condition. Proper knowledge of the signs makes diagnosis and treatment easier. Here is more on anemia in dogs including, causes, types and risk factors.

Symptoms of Anemia in Dogs

If your dog presents with one of the following symptoms take them to the vet for examination and a proper diagnosis.

Pale Gums is a Common Sign of Anemia in Dogs
Pale Gums is a Common Sign of Anemia in Dogs
  • White or pink, pale gums. This is a common clinical sign of anemia in dogs. Gums should naturally have a pink or red color. Loss of color indicates small amounts of blood levels.
  • Seizures, dizziness or fainting. Low oxygen levels leave the dogs fatigued when it moves or plays about
  • The dog also vomits more than usual
  • Heart problems, palpitations, tachycardia
  • Panting and shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Pale eyes

Note that these symptoms may be an indicator for other conditions. Have your dog checked by a vet to confirm a diagnosis?

Causes of Anemia in Dogs

Anemia is the deficiency of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. “Hemoglobin is a protein and a key chemical compound that connects with oxygen.

”It may be due to low blood production or loss of blood. Poor conditions of the hemoglobin or red cells result in low oxygen supply.

This results to poor supply of oxygen to other body parts. Symptoms include fatigue, lack of appetite or exercise intolerance.

Causes of Anemia in dogs
Causes of Anemia in dogs

Blood transfusion may be required in severe cases.

Types of Anemia

There are three different ways in which anemia in dogs can occur:

  • Hemolysis or Destruction of the red blood cells
  • Blood Loss
  • Unhealthy production of the red blood cells and hemoglobin

1. Hemolysis

It is simply the rupture of red blood cells. Hemolysis is the leading cause of anemia in dogs. It causes the red blood cells to break down too soon before their lifespan is over. The lifespan of a red blood cell is 110 to 120 days.

Flea Infestation causes blood loss
Flea Infestation causes blood loss

Hemolysis can be due to:

  • Blood parasites that destroy red blood cells
  • Cancer
  • Chemicals and toxins

2. Blood Loss

The leading causes of blood loss in dogs include:

  • Blood loss during or after surgery can lead to anemia.
  • Infestation from fleas, ticks, and hookworms. Parasites suck blood which is a major cause of anemia in dogs
  • Some types of blood disorders can prevent proper clotting. This may lead to bleeding even from small injuries.
  • Internal bleeding and rupture of blood vessels due to trauma or post operation. These are rare but serious causes of blood loss in dogs.

3. Unhealthy production of the red blood cells and hemoglobin

Deficiency of Iron

Iron is the main compound in the manufacture of hemoglobin. Its deficiency may be due to pregnancy, cancer or stomach ulcers.

Chronic disease

Several conditions cause poor or slow the production of red blood cells in dogs. These include chronic conditions such as canine kidney disease, cancer, and aplastic pancytopenia.

Sickle cell

A deformity of the red blood cell. It restricts the oxygen-carrying capacity of the red blood cells. This deformity causes a condition known as sickle cell anemia. It can be inherited and is a dangerous disease.

Vitamin B12 deficiency

Some dogs lack vitamin B12, which leads to decreased red blood cell production. This may be due to a lacking diet. It may also be due to a problem digestive system where the vitamins are poorly or not absorbed at all. Vitamin B12 deficiency in dogs results in a condition known as Pernicious anemia.

Other causes of the unhealthy production of red cells include; infections, autoimmune disease, toxins, and certain medicines.

Types of Anemia in Dogs

There are several types of canine anemia. Note that all dog breeds can be affected by each of these types of anemia. Rare types such as sickle cell anemia may be restricted to a specific breed since they are genetic.

Anemia in dogs can be classified broadly as;

  • Hemolytic Anemia
  • Nonregenerative Anemia

Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs

Caused by rupture of red blood cells. It may also happen when cells are destroyed faster than they are produced.

1. Auto-Immune Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs (AIHA)

Hemolytic Anemia
Hemolytic Anemia

AIHA generates when the body attacks and destroys it’s own red blood cells. As a result, red blood cells have a shorter lifespan. The body’s immune system is dysfunctional thus it attacks it’s on red blood cells.

In the secondary form of AIHA, the red blood cell is changed by a toxin. The immune system sees it as a foreign intruder to the dog’s body system and attacks.

2. Immune- Mediated Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs (IMHA)

IMHA Occurs as a result of vaccination, drugs, infections or cancer (tumor). As a result, the dog’s body doesn’t recognize red blood cells. It develops antibodies to circulate the red blood cells.

Blood clotting can be a cause of Immune- Mediated Hemolytic Anemia in Dogs

Non- Regenerative Anemia in Dogs

Causes of Non- regenerative canine anemia include; chronic diseases, nutritional deficiencies or bone marrow diseases.

Iron deficiency anemia

This type of Anemia is most common in pregnant dogs. Iron deficiency anemia leads to insufficient production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin makes the biggest part of the red blood cell.

Aplastic Anemia in Dogs

It’s a rare but life-threatening type of canine anemia. Causes include; Toxins, Infections, and Exposure to Radiation.

Pernicious anemia in dogs

A type of non-regenerative anemia in dogs caused by lack of vitamin B12 or Folate deficiency. These two are essential in the production of red blood cells,

Anemia of chronic disease

Also known as anemia of chronic inflammation. This is a type of anemia seen in chronic ailments such as kidney disease and liver failure.

It can also be due to malignancies.

Sickle cell anemia

This is a severe but rare form of anemia in dogs. It is a hereditary condition that mutates the shape of a red blood cell into a crescent shape.

The remaining red cells are unhealthy and are not able to carry blood around the body.

Other forms of anemia include:

  • Microcytic hypochromic anemia – pyridoxine deficiency
  • Thalassemia
  • Thrombocytopenia


A number of tests may be done to check for anemia. 90 % of these comprise of the blood tests.

  • A complete blood count
  • Blood biochemical profile
  • The most common one is hematocrit (HCT). This is the measure of the levels of red blood cells in the dog’s blood
  • The characteristics of the red cells are studied to check for abnormalities
  • Kidney and liver tests may be done
  • Urinalysis/ urine tests may be done to check for by-products of red cell destruction. Urine exam are also meant to assess kidney function
  • Examination of urine may be necessary
  • Bone marrow aspirate

Risk factors for Anemia in Dogs

These factors place your dog at a higher risk of getting anemia

  • Elderly Dogs
  • Pregnancy
  • Dogs with cancer. Cancer is a chronic disease that may affect different systems in the body. Cancer and cancer treatment increases the demand for blood.
  • Newborn Puppies.
  • Kidney disease/ failure. Dogs, who have suffered renal failure, are more prone to have anemia.
  • Poor diets without Iron, Vitamin B 12 and Folate
  • Infections
  • Digestive system disorders
  • Liver diseases

Anemia in Dogs Treatment

There are different kinds of approach for each type of anemia. The goal of treatment is to increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the red blood cells and hemoglobin.

Treating the underlying cause of anemia in dogs is very important.

  • Treat underlying disorders
  •  Blood Transfusion is given intravenously
  • Iron Therapy
  • Dietary Changes
  • Supplement Folic Acid, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin C
  • Artificial Blood Products
  • Antibiotics may be given for infections
  • Corticosteroids to suppress the immune system. Prevents the body from destroying its own red blood cells
  • Bone marrow or Stem Cell Transplant
  • Surgery

Home Remedies / Natural Treatments

Home remedies are ideal for mild to moderate anemia. They can be used singly or as a co-treatment to conventional methods such as drugs and blood transfusions.

Iron supplements can be added to the dog’s food to treat iron deficiency anemia. Best sources of iron include;

  • Red meat mostly liver and beef
  • Chicken, Turkey
  • Fish
  • Pork

Give Vitamin B12 supplements to help get rid Pernicious anemia. Below are types of foods substances containing vitamin B12;

  • Milk
  • Meat, beef or liver
  • Fish

Complications of Anemia in Dogs

Complications due to anemia in dogs may be difficult to treat. Here are some of them;

Enlarged Heart and Heart failure. Anemia causes the heart to overwork. It tries to pump more blood to compensate.

Pregnancy problems.  Untreated anemia during pregnancy can lead to premature birth. It may also result in birth of puppies that are small for their gestation ages.

Regular checks and examinations will help detect anemia before complications set in.


Anemia in Dogs: VCA Animal Hospitals

Natural Dog Health Remedies: Canine Anemia

DVM 360: Managing Iron Deficiency Anemia

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