Diagnosing a dog when it gets sick is not easy. Unlike humans, who can describe their specific symptoms and where they may feel pain, dogs tend to display their signs of illness in many of the same ways and without the help of speech.
The fact that many illnesses share symptoms can be quite dangerous, especially if you decide to wait it out to see if your dog is just having a rough day. Without specific tests and professional examinations, you have few ways of knowing whether symptoms like lethargy and decreased appetite are due to things like stress and exhaustion or if they’re caused by a much more serious illness.
Anemia is one example of this. While it is generally a symptom of a disease rather than a disease itself, it can manifest with many of the same symptoms as a cold, stress or other illness might. And, it can be caused by a wide number of underlying health problems.
Therefore, it’s important to be informed about anemia and know when to take action to get your pup the help it needs.
What is anemia?
Anemia refers to a drop in the number of red blood cells in your dog’s body. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body using a protein called hemoglobin inside the cells. A decreased number of red blood cells will result in less oxygen being delivered and the potential malfunction of normal body processes. This can make your dog feel tired or weak all the time.
There are two main types of anemia in pets. Regenerative anemia is when your dog’s bone marrow tries to make up for the decrease by increasing red blood cell production. Unfortunately, it is usually not able to make up the difference entirely.
Non-regenerative anemia can be caused by nutritional deficiencies or other problems that cause the bone marrow to be unable to create new red blood cells normally.
Anemia issues can be the result of blood loss, production problems within the bone marrow or something destroying red blood cells after they are created. Generally, it is brought about by an underlying disease.
These problems may be caused by a variety of different things, including:
- Internal bleeding
- Poisoning by chemicals, lead, drugs or some foods
Anemia can also be either chronic or acute. Chronic anemia may develop slowly over time, while acute anemia come on very suddenly, usually due to toxic poisoning or trauma.
The dangers of anemia
Anemia has the potential to be extremely dangerous to your dog’s health. In its mildest form, it can make your dog feel sluggish and tire more easily, but at its most severe, it can be fatal.
A sudden onset of anemia is more likely to be fatal, particularly if treatment is not sought immediately. If anemia develops over time, the body is usually able to adjust more easily—but not always.
The other problem with anemia is that it’s not always very easy to spot. Mild anemia may not be visible and might only be identified through a blood test. More severe anemia will usually generate more noticeable symptoms.
Additionally, symptoms of anemia may appear similar to that of other common illnesses in dogs. These symptoms usually include lethargy, weakness, reduced appetite and weight loss.
It is typically other symptoms, such as pale gums and eye membranes, increased heart rate and labored breathing that clue people in to the presence of anemia. The dog may also have blood in the stool caused by gastrointestinal bleeding if internal bleeding is part of the cause.
If you notice any of these signs—even the milder ones—you should call your vet to have your pup examined. Your vet will need to run tests to determine the root cause of the anemia and create a treatment plan for the problem, whether that is internal blood loss, a disease, dog cancer or something else.
Comprehensive treatment of the underlying disease or injury is most commonly required. A blood transfusion may also be necessary to bring your pup back to health if its red blood cell count is dangerously low.
Depending on the underlying cause, chronic anemia may be something your dog has to manage throughout its life. If the underlying cause is curable, recovery may still take a while as the body heals and begins generating adequate numbers of red blood cells.
Fortunately, with proper detection and prompt treatment, your dog should be able to recover and live happily.