Anaemia is a condition that is characterised by a decreased amount of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the blood stream. There are numerous causes of anaemia with each of these having different ways in which to be managed.
In dogs, anaemia is an extremely serious condition which can be devastating for these animals. Normally, the red blood cell percentage in dogs is between 40 to 60 percent of the total blood content. If this percentage drops below 37 percent though, then the dog will be diagnosed as anaemic.
Symptoms and signs of anaemia
Dogs with anaemia can experience symptoms and signs such as loss of appetite, weakness and tiredness. Due to the decreased red blood cell levels, not enough oxygen reaches the mucous membranes of the tongue and gums which results in a pale white to pink discoloration of these tissues.
In severe cases, the affected dog may experience rapid breathing and a faster heart rate due to the body trying to compensate for the decreased oxygen supply to the organs and tissues. It can be such a serious condition that the dog may collapse from exertion.
Causes and treatment of anaemia in dogs
Blood loss can occur from physical injuries such as trauma or large animal bites, but other not so easily visible causes may need to be excluded. These may include internal gastro-intestinal bleeds caused by ulcers, parasites, hookworms and tumours, as well as due to fleas. Stool and urine will need to be examined in order to confirm an internal bleed.
The treatment of the blood loss will then depend on the cause of the pathology. In general, severe enough blood loss will need to be initially managed with a blood transfusion.
Hemolysisis the medical term given for the destruction of red blood cells. One of the main causes of hemolysis is where the dog’s body produces proteins, called antibodies, which attack and rupture the normal red blood cells. This condition is called autoimmune haemolytic anaemia and occurs most commonly in breeds such as Irish Setters, Poodles, Old English Sheepdogs and Cocker Spaniels. Female dogs are up to four times more likely to suffer from this cause of anaemia than male dogs, and the average age of onset of the disease is between two and eight years of age. There are two types of autoimmune haemolytic anaemia, with the more serious one of the two being rarer and targeting middle-aged dogs and larger breeds.
Together with the mentioned signs and symptoms, dogs experiencing this condition will also present with yellow discoloration of the gums and white of the eyes (jaundice), as well as dark discoloration of the urine, with or without blood being present, due to the release of bile and haemoglobin from the red blood cells. Other signs may include enlargement of the liver and lymph nodes.
Other causes of hemolysis including infections such as leptospirosis and canine babeiosis, snake bites, and reactions to certain medications.
The management of autoimmune hemolyticanemia in dogs includes administering corticosteroids and other immunosuppressant medications to help reduce the inflammatory process to prevent further destruction of red blood cells. If these medications don’t work, or in severe cases, the affected dog may need to have their spleen surgically removed (splenectomy). Unfortunately, autoimmune haemolytic anaemia still has a mortality rate of over 40 percent in dogs despite treatment.
In some cases, puppies can be born with an congenital abnormality that affects how their red blood cells develop, which can result in these cells being destroyed.
Phosphofructokinase enzyme deficiency is another inherited condition that causes red blood cells to fragment by affecting their pH. This condition commonly occurs in dog breeds including English Springer Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels.
Unfortunately, there’s no treatment available for dogs diagnosed with congenital haemolytic anaemia.
Bone marrow suppression
Conditions such as chronic kidney diseases and severe illnesses can suppress the bone marrow from producing new red blood cells. This will eventually lead to anaemia because new red blood cells aren’t being produced fast enough to replace the old cells that are normally destroyed after 110 to 120 days.
Bone marrow suppression can also be caused by certain toxins and medications.
A lack of iron in the dog’s diet, or decreased iron levels due to acute bleeds or gastro-intestinal pathologies due to malabsorption of the element, can result in a decreased production of haemoglobin and therefore anaemia.
The cause of the iron deficiency must therefore be found and managed accordingly.
This story is a guest submission and does not reflect the views of Dogs Monthly Magazine, always consult a qualified expert.