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Anemic Cat: Causes, Symptoms, and Support

Image of a vet examining a grey cat to illustrate an anemic cat.

What is an Anemic Cat?

Anemia in cats itself is not a disease but rather a symptom caused by an underlying condition. An anemic cat can be medically confirmed by a blood test when there’s a reduced number of red blood cells and/or hemoglobin.

Red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow and circulate in the bloodstream for around two months. After that, the components of the red blood cells are recycled, and new sets are released back into the bloodstream. Anemia in cats may occur when this process is reduced or temporarily affected.

As mentioned before, hemoglobin can also be affected by anemia in cats. Hemoglobin is the cell responsible for carrying and delivering oxygen to other cells and tissues. With that, a cat with anemia will have issues with blood oxygenation.

What Causes an Anemic Cat?

Anemia in cats may occur when an underlying condition affects red blood cell production. In this case, it’s considered non-regenerative. This means that the cat’s bone marrow is not responding correctly, causing a long-term decrease in red blood cell production.

Bacterial and viral infections, hemiparasites (fleas, ticks, hookworm infestations), genetic conditions, and tumors, among other root causes, can lead to an anemic cat.

Pets can also temporarily lose or destroy blood cells due to issues like hemorrhage, trauma and/or injury of blood vessels or internal organs. This type of anemia is regenerative because the bone marrow still responds appropriately and can produce more blood cells. 

What are the Clinical Signs of Anemia in Cats?

The most common clinical signs of anemia in pets are lethargy and pale gums. In more severe cases, there might be nasal or oral bleeding if the trauma of internal organs is present.

What Diagnostic Tests can Confirm an Anemic Cat?

The most common test to diagnose anemia in cats is a simple blood exam called CBC (complete blood cell count). Based on these results, the veterinarian may diagnose an anemic cat. The next steps may vary, including the possibility of other exams to analyze, for example:

  • Parasites (fecal exam)
  • Internal bleeding (ultrasound and x-rays)
  • Infection
  • Conditions that may affect the bone marrow (bone marrow biopsy or aspirate)

What are the Treatment Options for Anemia in Cats?

The recommended treatment will depend on what is causing the anemia in the pet. The veterinarian might prescribe a supplementation to help with the symptoms, but the cat will hardly get better if the root cause isn’t addressed.

Some of the most common treatments for the underlying condition include:

  • Antibiotics, in case of infections
  • Dewormers, in the case of parasites
  • Other medications for tumors, for example, if that is the case 

If the anemia is severe, a blood transfusion might be needed, as well as intensive care and hospitalization.