Types and Treatments of Anemia in Cats

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Vet treating kitten for anemia in cats
Pet parents are great at knowing when their furry companion gets sick. But anemia in cats can sometimes be overlooked and mistaken for something else. It’s a serious condition that, when left untreated, can be fatal. Today, we’re telling you all you need to know about feline anemia. From its causes to how to deal with it, we’re here to help you nurse Mittens back to health.

What Is Anemia? A Look at the Anemia Definition

When we talk of anemia in cats, we’re talking of a low red blood cell count. These are special cells. Complicated medical terms aside, red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to all the body’s cells. Without them, Mittens’s body couldn’t survive.

It’s important to highlight that anemia isn’t a disease. Rather, it is the effect of a condition or disease. Although this distinction may seem like a game of semantics, it’s actually important!

Fortunately, anemia in cats doesn’t have to be deadly. There are ways of dealing with it. In fact, it’s not even that rare. Did you know that humans, dogs and cats can all have anemia?

Understanding Low Hemoglobin, Low Blood Cell Count and the HCT Normal Range

Let’s break down these medical terms. We’re sure they’ll be easier to understand. Only then can you become a health and well-being feline advocate!

Hemoglobin is a protein molecule rich in iron that binds to oxygen. It’s found in red blood cells and its job is to deliver oxygen to every cell in the body. Think of it as the only food delivery service in town. If it closes down shop, no one in town can eat. This is what happens to your cat’s body when there’s a low hemoglobin count.

The bone marrow is a semi-solid tissue encased in the bones. Its job is to produce all kinds of blood cells. When something damages it (a virus or cancer, for example), it can stop working. This leads to a deficiency of blood cells and, thus, a low blood cell count.

Luckily, HCT (or hematocrit) tests exist and are here to save the day. They diagnose anemia, among other things. In a nutshell, they tell doctors how many red blood cells are in the bloodstream. The HCT of healthy cats is anywhere between 25% and 45%. Anemic cats have HCT results below 25%.

Anemia Causes: A Close Look at the Cause of Anemia in Cats

A number of things can cause anemia in cats, for example, a chronic disease or a viral infection. Different causes lead to different types of anemia, also meaning different cures.Anemic kitten with ice pack and thermometer

The Dreaded Feline Leukemia Virus

Unfortunately, one of the causes of anemia in cats is the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). This nasty virus is passed from cat to cat and it can wreak havoc on your kitten’s immune system. It’s highly contagious, so vaccination is super-duper important!

Pesky Parasites

Blood parasites can also cause feline anemia. They’re most often transmitted through the bite of a tick or fly. The parasite Mycoplasma haemofelis is particularly dangerous. They can cause severe anemia in adult cats, which can lead to death.

5 Other Potential Causes for Your Fur-kid’s Iron Deficiency

Your kitten’s iron deficiency (or anemia) can have other causes. Keep these in mind the next time you go to the vet:

Chronic Kidney Disease: The kidneys produce the hormone erythropoietin. It has a super important role in the creation of red blood cells. When kidney failure happens, the hormone isn’t produced anymore. Thus, renal disease doesn’t only mean the body can’t dispose of toxins. It also means that there is a risk for anemia .

Lymphoma: When your cat’s lymph nodes go out of whack, anemia may occur. It’s one of the many side effects of lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): Another highly contagious anemia-causing virus is FIV. It’s essentially feline aids and it is spread between cats through mating and biting.

Severe Blood Loss: Anemia can be caused by severe blood loss. After all, the more blood they lose, the fewer red blood cells they have. This can be caused by an untreated wound in their gastrointestinal tract or by an awful flea infestation, for instance.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia: This immune system disease causes antibodies to kill its own red blood cells. We know, it sounds crazy. Although the bone marrow is still working, the body can’t keep up its hemoglobin reserves.

From Pale Gums to Lethargy: Signs and Symptoms of Anemia to Look Out For

If you spot a cat with anemia symptoms, you can still save them. The key is getting them help as soon as possible.

Anemic cats experience poor appetite, which leads to weight loss. They are also lethargic and spend a lot of time resting. If Mittens has not been their fun-loving self, it could be a sign of anemia.

Another typical sign is a loss of color to the tissues. Pale gums are particularly easy to spot, and a tell-tale sign of what’s going on.

Eating non-food items (a condition known as pica) is also one of the symptoms of anemia. A cat’s body will realize it has a deficiency in iron. This leads them to find the nutrient outside their food bowl. You’ll often see them lick their litter and try to eat dirt.

How Is Anemia in Cats Diagnosed?

If you’ve spotted the symptoms of anemia in your cat, good job. Now it’s time to take your kitten to the vet for a full physical examination. They’ll look for pale gums, low energy levels, and run a complete blood count test. This will determine, without a doubt, if your kitten is anemic.

When in Doubt the Vet Will Do an HCT Blood Test

The most foolproof test vets run is the HCT, or hematocrit. It tells them how many red blood cells are in the cat’s bloodstream. A result lower than 25% proves that your kitten has anemia.

They may also check your cat’s reticulocytes (immature red blood cells) count. This test tells vets if there’s something wrong with the bone marrow.

The Anemia Treatment Plan Depends on the Cause of the Illness

Each type of anemia has its own treatment plan. That’s why it’s so important to understand the causes of the low blood cell count!

In the most severe cases, anemia in cats can be cured by a blood transfusion. This will give the cat’s body some more time to fight the causes of anemia on its own. Furthermore, a blood transfusion quickly delivers oxygen to critical organs (for example, the brain).

Alternatively, a vet may prescribe iron supplements to a cat. If the anemia isn’t as severe, this is an easy and non-invasive treatment option.

Infectious anemia (caused by a virus) is usually treated with a course of antibiotics. They will kill the organisms harming your kitten, which reinstates a healthy balance.

Lastly, anemia in cats caused by fleas entails a de-infestation on top of other meds. And after that scare, it’s wise to look into long-term flea treatments for cats!

Anemic cat being treated with ice pack and medication

The Prognosis? Severe Anemia Can Be Life Threatening!

Severe anemia can have devastating consequences. It’s not uncommon for frail cats and kittens to die from this medical condition. That’s why it’s so important to take it seriously and to do everything in your power to fix it.

After the First Sign of Anemia: Take Your Cat to the Vet

Anemia can leave your cat too weak to fight a disease on its own. Not to mention that when their cells aren’t given oxygen, they die! Thus, it’s important to take your kitten to the vet as soon as you spot a series of signs or symptoms. As a cat owner, you’re their last line of defense against this unforgiving condition.

Common Questions on Anemia in Cats

Why does my cat have anemia?

How do I know if my cat has anemia?

What to do if my cat has anemia?

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