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Anaemia In Cats


Cats are more prone to suffer from anaemia. In itself anaemia is actually an indicator pointing towards serious issues which might be unfolding inside the body.

Blood consists of many types of cells. Red Blood Cells (RBC) are the most common type of cells present in blood. RBC contains haemoglobin which transfers oxygen from lungs to the tissues. Haemoglobin binds oxygen from the air it receives from lungs. As the blood circulates all over the body, oxygen is released into the tissues of the body, performing a vital function of maintaining life.

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In anaemia the number of red blood cells falls below normal.  That is, there aren’t enough red blood cells to carry oxygen.

In cats part of the problem lies with the shorter life span of their RBCs (around 70 days). In humans and dogs this count is approximately 110-120 days. Thus, there is higher turnover of RBCs in cats, and any interference in the process can lead to rapid development of anaemia.

Types of Anaemia

Anaemia can be broadly divided into regenerative and non-regenerative anaemia.

In regenerative anaemia, the bone marrow responds to anaemia by producing new RBCs in order to replace lost cells, but most of the times the rate of producing cells fall short of the speed at which the cells are being lost.

There are two types of regenerative anaemia –

1.Hemolytic Anaemia is where cat’s immune system destroys its own RBCs by mistake. Causes of Hemolytic Amaemia include:

  •           Problems in immune system
  •           Metabolic disorder
  •           Genetic diseases
  •           Blood parasites (like Hemobartonella)
  •           Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
  •           Low blood phosphate levels
  •           Toxins (such as onions or foods containing onions)
  •           Infections

2.Blood Loss Anaemia is where several RBCs are lost from bleeding. Causes of Blood Loss Anaemia include:

  •           Trauma
  •           Bleeding from an ulcerated mass or tumour
  •           Foods like onions and fava beans
  •           Chemicals
  •           Heavy metals like copper, zinc and lead
  •           Poor blood clotting
  •           Inherited red blood cell disorders
  •           Toxins from plants like red maple, oak and bracken fern

In non-regenerative anaemia, the bone marrow fails to make enough new RBCs to compensate the lost ones. Causes include:

  •           Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
  •           Iron deficiency
  •           Malfunctioning bone marrow
  •           Chronic inflammatory diseases
  •           Chronic kidney diseases
  •           Red cells aplasia
  •           Myelofibrosis (leads to failure of bone marrow)
  •           Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) infection

Signs of Anaemia

Not enough oxygen is being received by the body tissues of the cat, following are some of the symptoms that its body may show:

  • Gums and tongue turn pale pink to white
  • Lethargy
  • General weakness – lack of oxygen also means ineffective cell functioning
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased heart rate and higher blood pressure – as the heart tries to push the reduced amounts of haemoglobin around the body


  • Rapid breathing – to take in more oxygen from the environment as there is less of it in the tissues.
  • More than usual sleep
  • Jaundice
  • Develop pica – It is a tendency to eat unusual substances such as soil, cat litter, ice or to lick rocks or concrete.
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How to diagnose Anaemia

Your veterinarian needs to perform a complete physical examination which may include the following tests:

  • Complete blood count, wherein the cellular components of blood (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets) are evaluated. An increase in the numbers of reticulocytes (immature red blood cells) would indicate towards regenerative anaemia.
  • Blood smear test to check for the existence of blood parasites as well as deformities in RBCs.
  • Faecal examination to check for gastrointestinal blood loss
  • X-ray to look for any foreign objects, tumours and to check organs’ size
  • If it is suspected that bone marrow is not responding adequately to the anaemic state of health, a Bone Marrow Biopsy can be conducted.
  • Biochemical profile assesses organ function and gives significant information about the health of the cat


It’s anaemia! But anaemia is not the actual problem. It is a symptom of some other malfunction. Thus, it is very important to find the cause and its severity.

If it is a mild form of regenerative anaemia, no specific treatment may be required as the body is still trying to generate enough red blood cells. The blood count should be monitored till the time the cell count comes back to normal. Periodic checks should also be made to check for recurrence of declining RBCs. A vet can also prescribe vitamin B and chlorophyll supplements to quicken the rate of recovery.

The cure would change according to the cause, like if anaemia resulted because of iron deficiency then iron supplements will be given; immunosuppressive drugs, like corticosteroids, would be fed if immune system is responsible for the destruction of RBCs; antibiotics would be administered in case of infections; anti-parasitic medication if fleas and worms caused anaemia, and so on. Severely anaemic cats may have to undergo a blood transfusion.

Always remember that anaemia, if left untreated, or when not treated properly, may prove fatal. So it’s very important to detect anaemia and find its underlying cause(s) as quickly as possible.


Shikha Sharma believes that Mother Earth is our mutual abode, where all creatures have an equal right to live with dignity. This belief is clearly reflected in her wonderful writing pieces that revolve around animals and their well-being. She is the blog editor of Pets World.

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