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The Causes & Symptoms of Anemia in Cats

The Causes & Symptoms of Anemia in Cats

In this article, our veterinarians at Portland will discuss the signs and diagnostics of anemia. Anemia is not a disease but a condition characterized by a decrease in red blood cells, hemoglobin, or both. 

What is anemia in cats?

Anemia occurs when there is a decrease in red blood cells, hemoglobin, or both. It is not a standalone disease but rather a symptom of an underlying health issue or condition.

Causes of Anemia in Cats

Anemia is a condition where the number of red blood cells decreases because they are lost, destroyed, or not produced enough. In our feline friends, there are two types of anemia: regenerative and non-regenerative.


When your cat has regenerative anemia, it means their body is responding well to the low levels of red blood cells and their bone marrow is working extra hard to produce more. This type of anemia is usually caused by sudden blood loss from an injury, parasites, infection, or a severe illness like cancer. It commonly affects younger cats.


When a cat has non-regenerative anemia, it means their body can't produce enough red blood cells because their bone marrow doesn't respond properly. The most common cause of this condition in cats is kidney failure.

Normally, the kidneys produce a hormone that helps create red blood cells, but when the kidneys fail, the cat's body can't replace the red blood cells fast enough, leading to anemia.

This type of anemia is often observed in older cats and can also be caused by bone marrow disorders, liver disease, or other chronic illnesses.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA)

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA), also known as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA), is a type of anemia found in cats. In AIHA, the cat's body produces red blood cells as it should, but unfortunately, these cells are being destroyed by the body itself. Several factors can contribute to this condition, such as immune system dysfunction, diseases affecting small blood vessels, metabolic disorders, toxins, infections, or genetic diseases.

When a cat is diagnosed with AIHA, they typically have a severe form of anemia. This means their gums will appear very pale instead of 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

To diagnose anemia and find out why your cat has it, your vet might suggest several tests depending on your cat's symptoms. Commonly used tests for diagnosing anemia in cats are:

  • 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

When your cat is diagnosed with anemia, the vet will create a treatment plan based on the underlying cause and the cat's overall health. Identifying and treating the cause for non-regenerative anemia can usually resolve the condition.

If kidney disease is the cause, long-term hormone treatments may be prescribed to support red blood cell production. Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia is treated by identifying and addressing the underlying cause, which may involve antibiotics or toxin antidotes.

In severe cases, a blood transfusion may be required.

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.

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