Diagnosing anemia in dogs

April 13, 2012

Red blood cells are key players in the performance of the body’s functions. One of the important roles of red blood cells is to transport oxygen from the lungs to the different tissues of the body. Another function is to carry carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs so that this body waste can be breathed out. What happens if there are an insufficient numbers of red blood cells in the body? If red blood cells are not functioning properly, body functions would crash. The condition where the overall number of red blood cells in the blood stream is reduced is called anemia. Because of fewer red blood cells, the ability of the blood to supply the normal level of oxygen to the tissues will be compromised.

Dogs are said to be about 90% similar in genetics with humans. Just like their humans friends, dogs too can have anemia. Severe case of anemia is life threatening as it gives the dog a 50% chance of survival. Dogs have made a great deal of difference to human’s way of life. Considered as pseudo people, dogs have earned the affection of the human family. It would be very important for a dog owner to know the symptoms and the causes of anemia so that the pet can be given appropriate treatment.

Nutritional deficiency is the most common cause of anemia in humans. Anemic people often have deficiency in iron, folic acid or vitamin B12. Canine anemia is different. Nutritional deficiency is not a common cause of canine anemia as in most cases; the condition arises from parasite infestation. Anemia in dogs is not really a disease rather this condition is a manifestation of an underlying health concern. This condition will occur if the dog has a disease that causes blood loss, if a disease slows down the production of red blood cells or a disease cause the red blood cells to breakdown. Blood loss will occur if the pet has an injury that severely affected internal organs and blood vessels. This situation will be aggravated is the dog has a blood clotting problem. Blood loss can be caused by the bleeding in the intestinal tract caused by hookworm and other parasite infestation. Poisoning that causes severe damage to the blood vessels and to the red blood cells in the lungs, liver and kidneys will also cause anemia. The role of the body’s immune system is to fight germs but an autoimmune disease will virtually destroy the body’s very own red blood cells.

Mild anemia can be effectively treated. However, severe cases, like immune mediated hemolytic anemia would require blood transfusion to give the dog a better chance of survival. A pet owner would be able to see signs that the dog is anemic. One would be the pale color of mucus membranes. The dog would lose its normal pink color so that the gums, the ears and the eyes would have a pale color. Dogs are active animals noted to have huge appetites but anemic individuals would be lethargic and would have no interest in food. The dog that has an increased heart rate would tire easily so that instead of playing, the dog would be seen sleeping most of the time. Treatment will depend on the cause of the condition. Take the dog to the vet for tests that will accurately diagnose the causes of the pet’s condition. In most cases, a hematocrit or a packed cell volume test will be done. Leukemia is a common cause of anemia thus a bone marrow biopsy may be needed. A fecal exam will be done as blood loss can be due to parasite infestation.

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