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Anemia in Cats: What you Need to Know

In both humans and animals, red blood cells come from bone marrow, carry oxygen throughout our bodies, and help our organs function properly. The average life span of feline red blood cells is 70 days, with new ones regularly emerging from the bone marrow to take their place. Anemia occurs when your cat's body isn't producing enough red blood cells. Oxygen is essential for all bodily functions, so if your cat's oxygen transportation system isn't working, it can cause some very serious problems. Although sudden, severe anemia is life-threatening, milder, more gradual cases tend to respond better to treatments. Any time you suspect that your cat is sick, take it to your vet as soon as possible.

woman holding cat

Symptoms of Anemia in Cats

Because anemia affects the amount of oxygen in your cat's body, the symptoms often reflect not being able to get enough air. The symptoms include:

● increased respiratory rate and rapid chest movements
● open-mouth breathing (because your cat is trying to get more oxygen)
● weakness or lethargy
● loss of appetite
● pale gums (they will look whitish instead of red or pink)
● seizures (these occur when the brain isn't getting enough oxygen)

Causes of Anemia in Cats

There are several different causes of anemia in cats. They include:
● kidney disease
● chronic inflammation
● autoimmune disease
● infections
● trauma/blood loss

When people think of blood loss, they typically think of trauma or a situation where blood is pooling out from somewhere, such as out of a wound. However, two of the most common causes of anemia from blood loss in cats are due to a flea and/or tick infestation and hookworm infections.

Fleas and ticks drink blood off animals to live and reproduce. When cats, especially small cats or kittens are heavily infested, they can lose so much blood to the biting fleas and ticks that they actually become anemic. It can become so severe that the cat can die.

Hookworms, like fleas and ticks, drink blood from cats. But they live inside the cat in the intestines. Hookworms use their sharp mouthparts to pierce the intestinal wall and guzzle blood. Heavy infections can cause rapid blood loss and even death.

Diagnosing Anemia in Cats

Your vet will do blood work to check out the red blood cells and look for an underlying cause (if it's not already obvious). The vet may also take x-rays or perform an ultrasound.

Treating Anemia in Cats and Kittens

Depending on the cause of anemia, your vet may review different treatment options with you. Treating anemia from disease processes such as kidney disease can be complicated, possibly requiring multiple medications and even blood transfusions.

Anemia associated with flea, tick, or hookworm infestation is handled by killing and removing the blood sucking parasites. Once the parasites are removed, the cat's body will be able to replenish its oxygen-carrying red blood cells back to normal levels.

Speak to your veterinarian about how you can treat and control fleas, as well as GI parasites such as hookworms.

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