Anemia in Cats – Types and Symptoms
Anemia Symptoms in Cats
Anemia can be caused by blood loss or inadequate red blood cell production. In some cases, the body produces red cells rapidly, but not fast enough to keep up with the losses. It may take three to five days for the bone marrow to respond to a blood loss by producing new red blood cells.
Rapid blood loss is caused by trauma and major hemorrhage. Shock will ensue. Treatment of shock using intravenous electrolyte solutions and blood transfusions is directed at controlling the bleeding and restoring fluid volume and red blood cells.
A less obvious blood loss takes place through the gastrointestinal tract as a result of hookworm or coccidia infestation, tumors, or ulceration. External parasites such as fleas and lice can cause a cat to lose surprising amounts of blood.
Eighty percent of feline anemias are due to inadequate red blood cell production. Iron, trace minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids are incorporated into red blood cells, so a deficiency in building materials will result in a failure to manufacture the final product.
Iron deficiency is a cause of anemia. Some cases are caused by diets low in iron and other essential nutrients. However, most cases are caused by chronic blood loss. Each milliliter of blood lost contains 0.5 mg of iron.
A number of diseases and toxic agents interfere with the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. They include feline leukemia and feline infectious peritonitis, some cancers, drugs such as chloramphenicol, kidney failure with uremia, and various chemicals and poisons. Kidney failure leads to a deficiency of erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production in the bone marrow. In fact, any chronic illness can depress the bone marrow and lead to anemia.
There are two known infectious agents that can cause anemia in cats. Cytauxzoon felis is not very common and is passed to cats by ticks. Bobcats and the Florida panther may be reservoirs of infection. Most cases occur in cats living in rural, wooded areas of the Southeast. Depression, not eating, and a fever may be noted in cats with this type of infection. Some will develop jaundice. Cytauxzoonosis is usually fatal to domestic cats, and death occurs rapidly. There is no standard treatment, but imidocarb dipropionate and diminazene aceturate have been suggested as possible treatments if cases are detected early on.
More common is infection with Mycoplasma haemophilus (formerly called Hemobartonella felis). A variant is Mycoplasma haemominutum. This blood parasite is primarily passed to cats through tick and flea bites, but it can also be spread by cat bites and in utero or from infected queens to nursing kittens. Red blood cells are destroyed by the cat's own immune reactions to the parasites. Mycoplasma haemophilus may also work in concert with feline leukemia virus to stimulate bone marrow cancers.
Cats with this type of infectious anemia are often weak and may have fevers. Some cats eat dirt or their litter in an attempt to add minerals to their diet. If left untreated, up to 30 percent of affected cats may die.
Signs of Anemia
Signs may be overshadowed by a chronic illness. In general, anemic cats lack appetite, lose weight, sleep a great deal, and show generalized weakness. The mucous membranes of the gums and tongue are pale. In cats with severe anemia, the pulse and breathing rate are rapid. These signs also occur with heart disease, and these two conditions can be confused.
Anemia is usually diagnosed by blood tests that look for the red blood cell count and also for the numbers and types of red blood cells present on a smear. Blood parasites are often detected on a smear, but special polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests may be needed in some cases. A bone marrow sample may also be useful in determining the cause of the anemia.
Treatment: Uncomplicated nutritional anemia responds well to replacement of the missing nutrients and restoring the cat to a nutritionally complete diet.
Iron deficiency anemia should alert you to the possibility of chronic blood loss. A stool check will show whether there are ova and parasites or traces of blood in the feces. Work with your veterinarian to treat any external parasites.
This article is excerpted from “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.
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