Anemia is a condition that occurs when the red blood cell count drastically decreases and they are unable to perform as needed to keep the body functioning properly. Here, our Perry vets talk about hemoglobin, the effect of low red blood cells on your cat's body, and how it can be treated.
How Red Blood Cells Affect Your Cat's Health
Red blood cells (otherwise known as erythrocytes) carry oxygen to a cat’s tissues. Hemoglobin is a type of molecule that carries the oxygen within red blood to cells, which then use the energy the body needs to perform normal day-to-day activities.
Throughout this process, carbon dioxide is left behind as a waste product. Your cat's red blood cells carry the carbon dioxide away from the tissues back to the lungs, where your cat exhales it.
What causes low red blood cells in cats?
Your cat’s metabolism naturally protects both red blood cells and hemoglobin from damage. A reduction in the number of red blood cells can occur if there is:
- Interruption in production or survival of red blood cells
- Poor metabolism
- Interference in the formation or release of hemoglobin
Red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow. In healthy animals, the total number of red cells remains constant over time. Mature red blood cells have a limited life span, which means their creation and death must be carefully timed, or disease can develop.
These cells circulate for about two months and as they age or become damaged, they are removed from the bloodstream.
If your cat loses too many red blood cells or production decreases significantly, this can result in a lack of red blood cells, which in turn leads to anemia. There are two types of anemia that we can see in cats: regenerative anemia and non-regenerative anemia.
Regenerative anemia occurs when your cat's body is producing red blood cells as it should but is unable to meet demand. This form of anemia can be caused by:
- Blood loss (internal or external) from injury, parasites, tumors, accidents, ulcers
- Hemolysis (when the body destroys red blood cells because they appear abnormal)
- Toxins (from accidentally ingesting food, medications, heavy metals)
Non-regenerative anemia happens when a kitty's body is not making a normal amount of red blood cells. Non-regenerative anemia in cats can be caused by:
- Bone marrow disorders
- Poor diet
- Kidney disease
- Chronic diseases
What are the signs of low red blood cells in cats?
While anemia is not a disease itself, it is a complication or symptom of certain conditions. If your cat is anemic you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:
- Pale pink or white gums
- Decreased appetite
- Increased breathing rate
- Increased heart rate
- Drinking more water
In severe cases, the respiratory effort will also increase as your cat attempts to inhale more oxygen into the lungs to improve the level of oxygen in their body. Left untreated anemia can be debilitating for your cat, and may even become life-threatening.
How is anemia in cats diagnosed and treated?
Your vet will need to collect a Complete Blood Count (CBC) from your cat so it can be tested to tell him or her how many red blood cells, hemoglobin, white blood cells, and platelets your pet has. Your vet will also use this blood test to determine the type of anemia that your cat is experiencing.
Once the anemia itself and type have been determined through your cat's diagnosis, your vet may require further testing. Treatment will depend on the severity of the condition, as well as the underlying cause. In some cases, this may include a change in diet or medication, surgery, blood transfusion, or other treatments.
How to Increase Red Blood Cells in Cats
While treatment is possible, prevention is always the best option. Ensure your cat is getting all the nutrients he needs in his diet, and reduce the risk of blood loss by scheduling routine wellness exams to have him checked for parasites and other health issues.
Also, keep your kitty up to date on their vaccines and parasite prevention. When it comes to treatment with blood transfusions, multiple transfusions may be needed before the cat’s body can create enough red blood cells on its own. If you need to boost your cat’s red blood cells, iron-rich foods may help.
What foods can help improve your cat's iron levels?
The easiest way to increase iron levels is to include additional iron-rich foods in your cat's diet.
Iron-rich foods include lean meat such as turkey, pork, beef, and chicken (just make sure to trim the fat off pork products before feeding to your cat, as too much can cause pancreatitis). Fish also makes the list, as do eggs (with the caveat that eggs are an occasional treat and must be cooked well to reduce the risk of food poisoning).
Anytime you plan to alter your cat's diet, you should speak with your vet. They can help with recommendations and help to avoid serious complications such as allergic reactions.
If you notice signs of anemia in your cat, make an appointment with your vet right away. They can perform tests and develop a custom treatment plan, which may include actions you can take at home to help him recover.
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.