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The Causes & Symptoms of Anemia in Cats

Anemia is a serious condition in cat's that is typically caused by an underlying health problem that requires urgent treatment. Today our Greensboro vets explain the types of anemia seen in cats as well as the causes, symptoms and treatment options available.

What is anemia in cats?

Anemia is a medical term which refers to a decrease in the number of red blood cells, hemoglobin, or both. Rather than being a disease, anemia is a symptom of underlying health issue or disease. 

Causes of Anemia in Cats

Anemia is characterized by a decrease in the number of red blood cells due to the loss, destruction, or insufficient production of the red blood cells. There are two different types of anemia that can be seen in our feline friends, regenerative, and non-regenerative: 


If your cat is suffering from regenerative anemia your pet's bone marrow is responding normally to the lack of red blood cells and is working hard to meet the increased demand.

Regenerative anemia is caused by acute or sudden blood loss, due to an injury, parasites, infection, or a serious illness (such as cancer). This form of anemia typically occurs in younger cats.


When a cat has non-regenerative anemia, the bone marrow is unable to adequately respond to the decreased number of red blood cells. 

Non-regenerative anemia in cats is most often caused by kidney failure (renal failure). If your cat is healthy their kidneys create a hormone that helps to produce red blood cells. When the kidneys fail to work properly your cat's body is unable replace red blood cells as quickly as the cat’s body uses them, resulting in anemia. 

This form of anemia is typically seen in older cats, and could also be caused by bone marrow disorders, liver disease or other chronic diseases. 

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA)

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) is typically a regenerative form of anemia in cats. If your cat is diagnosed with AIHA their body is likely producing red blood cells as it should however the cells are being destroyed by the body. This can be due to a number of reasons including immune system dysfunction, small blood vessels disease, metabolic disorders, toxins, infections, or genetic diseases.

This condition may also be referred to as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA). Most cats with AIHA have severe anemia causing their gums will be very pale, rather than the normal pink to red color.

Signs of Anemia in Cats

If your cat is suffering from anemia, the symptoms he or she displays will depend upon the severity, duration and the underlying cause of the illness. Some of the most common symptoms of anemia in cats are: 

  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath 

In more severe cases your cat may show one or more of the following symptoms:

  • White or pale gums
  • Weakness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Jaundice (yellow skin, gums or eyes)

If your cat is showing any of the symptoms listed above it is essential to visit your vet as soon as possible for an assessment.

Diagnosing Anemia in Cats

In order to diagnose anemia, and pinpoint the underlying cause of your cat's condition, your vet may recommend a number of tests based on your cat's symptoms.

Blood tests that are often performed when diagnosing anemia in cats include:

  • Complete blood cell count (CBC)
  • Packed cell volume (PCV) or Hematocrit
  • Red Blood Cell Count
  • Hemoglobin count

Your vet may also wish to perform the following tests to narrow down the cause of your cats anemia:

  • Bone marrow biopsy to check that bone marrow is performing as it should.
  • Biochemical profile and urinalysis in order to look for signs of organ failure and check electrolyte levels
  • Fecal exam to look for evidence of intestinal parasites which could cause anemia

Typically diagnosis is based on a comprehensive assessment of your cat’s physical condition, health history, clinical symptoms, iron testing, urinalysis, bone marrow testing and complete blood cell counts.

Treatment for Cats Suffering From Anemia

Once your cat has been diagnosed with anemia, your vet will work with you to develop a treatment plan to treat the underlying condition. Your cat's treatment will depend upon the underlying cause of the illness, the severity and other elements of your cat's overall health.

For non-regenerative anemia, once your vet pinpoints the cause, your cat's anemia can typically be resolved by treating the underlying disease.

If kidney disease (renal failure) is at the root of your kitty's condition,  your vet may prescribe long-term hormone treatments to help the kidneys produce red blood cells. 

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) is treated by diagnosing and addressing the underlying cause of the condition. Treatment for AIHA may include antibiotics or toxin antidotes to help restore your cat's health.

In severe cases, a blood transfusion may be necessary.

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 cat may have diabetes? Our veterinarians can diagnose diseases and conditions and plan treatments. Book an appointment today.

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