Anemia in Dogs

Anemia in dogs is a symptom of a potentially serious underlying condition. Our Greensboro vets explain anemia, which signs to watch for, and how it’s treated. 


What is anemia in dogs?

If there aren’t enough red blood cells or hemoglobin (sometimes both) circulating in your dog’s bloodstream, this is referred to as a condition named anemia. Red blood cells are essential to life, as they supply oxygen to the rest of your dog’s body and eliminate carbon dioxide. Hemoglobin is the protein inside these cells that carries the oxygen.

Inside the bone marrow, red blood cells are produced and will circulate for about three months before they break down and are replaced. This cycle repeats seamlessly in healthy dogs.

In dogs that are injured or sick, this process is disrupted and a number of conditions, diseases and injuries can cause anemia. These conditions include:

  • Canine influenza, parvovirus and other infectious diseases
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Parasite infestations (roundworms, ticks, fleas, hookworms, etc.) that can result in blood loss
  • Cancer
  • Poor nutrition
  • Immune diseases, in which the immune system attacks healthy blood cells

Certain breeds or dogs may be susceptible to conditions or diseases known to cause anemia. Consult your veterinarian regarding any health-related risks your dog may have, and what can be done to prevent them or decrease your pooch’s chances of facing them. This way, you can proactively look for and respond to any signs and symptoms that crop up.

What are symptoms of anemia in dogs?

Anemia is difficult, as it can be one of many symptoms that manifest as a result of an underlying condition, but it may also be the only symptom you see. Regardless, watch for these symptoms of anemia in your dog:

  • Bruising on skin (due to loss of platelets)
  • Fatigue; easily running out of energy during exercise or play
  • Change in color of gums (pale pink or whitish)
  • “Tarry” or dark stools, or dark blood in vomit or feces

What should I do if I think my dog is suffering from anemia?

As soon as possible, you should visit your veterinarian. In particular, blood in vomit or feces is a veterinary medical emergency that needs your vet’s immediate attention.

Your vet will need to officially diagnose and test your dog for the type of anemia he or she has, and what the underlying cause is. The veterinarian may perform a series of blood tests for diagnostic purposes, in addition to ultrasounds, imaging and x-rays.

Blood tests may include the PVC (packed volume test). This measures the percentage of red blood cells in your dog’s blood stream. If these levels register at lower than 35 percent, he’ll be classified as anemic.

Other tests such as bone marrow biopsies and blood smears can help your vet identify whether the anemia is responsive or unresponsive.

With responsive anemia, the bone marrow attempts to correct the anemia. But if bone marrow is not responding as it should, this would be classified as unresponsive anemia. When a dog’s body loses or destroys red blood cells, this is known as hemolytic anemia.

How is anemia in dogs treated?

Depending on the severity of your dog’s anemia, he may require a blood transfusion. Your vet will create a custom treatment plan to treat the underlying condition. Treatment options may range from medication to surgery, depending on the condition.

Is anemia fatal for dogs?

Numerous conditions ranging from injury, diseases or toxins to autoimmune disorders can cause the serious symptom of anemia. Contact your veterinarian immediately for assistance, as your dog’s prognosis will be determined by the cause and treatment of the anemia.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect your dog is anemic? Contact our Greensboro vets to book an appointment. Our veterinarians are experienced in diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in pets.

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