How to Treat Anemia in Dogs

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In addition to pale gums, anemic dogs also tend to be lethargic and tired.
Image Credit: Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Anemia in dogs is a deficiency of red blood cells and can be caused by a lack of red blood cell production, blood loss or hemolysis. One of the primary signs of anemia is pale or white gums. If a dog owner notices this symptom, he should take his dog into a vet immediately as severe anemia can be fatal. Veterinarians treat anemia by diagnosing and treating the underlying cause of the condition.


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Blood Transfusions

Dogs with severe anemia have a rapid respiratory and heart rate and may have a heart murmur. In some cases, exhaustion will cause them to collapse. In these situations, a veterinarian might do a blood transfusion to help stabilize the dog until the cause of the anemia is found. The vet will draw blood to complete the diagnostic tests before beginning the transfusion.


Treat Blood Loss

Blood loss is a common cause of anemia and may be caused by hookworms, fleas and ulcers. Treatment options include deworming the dog, flea treatments to remove the parasites or medication to treat ulcers. Tumors in the gastrointestinal tract also might cause blood loss and result in anemia. If your dog has a tumor, he may need surgery to remove it or additional tests and treatments if it is cancerous.


Prevent Blood Cell Breakdown

When red blood cells breakdown at an accelerated rate, a process called hemolysis, dogs may develop anemia. In severe cases, bile and hemoglobin created during the hemolysis process accumulate resulting in jaundice and dark brown urine. This type of anemia may be caused by infections and diseases such as leptospirosis or canine babesiosis that must be treated with antibiotics or other medications. Venom from snakebites also may cause hemolysis, but may be neutralized using antivenin.


Autoimmune Disease Treatments

According to WebMD, immune-mediated hemolytic anemia is the most common cause of anemia in dogs. The dog's immune system attacks the red blood cells and takes them to the spleen to be destroyed. Dogs are treated with corticosteroids and immunosuppressants to slow the destruction of red blood cells. In some cases, the spleen may be removed to further slow hemolysis. These dogs may need blood transfusions to treat the resulting anemia. Dogs with congenital hemolytic anemia lack the enzymes necessary to maintain healthy red blood cells. No effective treatment options exist for these types of anemia, advises WebMD.


Increase Blood Cell Production

Some conditions that inhibit the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow and may result in anemia include neoplasia, which is a type of cancer, exposure to chemicals and toxins, hypothyroidism and chronic kidney or liver disease. Medications to stabilize these diseases allow the dog's body to increase red blood cell production.


Natural Remedies and Support

Because anemia in dogs is caused by serious underlying conditions, dog owners should consult a veterinarian before administering any natural remedies. Iron deficiency is rarely a primary cause of anemia in dogs, so iron supplementation is not an effective anemia treatment. However, once the underlying cause is being treated, natural remedies can help support the dog's recovery. Supplementing a dogs diet with high-iron meats such as cooked liver and vitamin B can help increase the body's ability to carry oxygen. Herbs such as nettle, red clover and burdock root also may be beneficial.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.



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