Q: My veterinarian diagnosed my cat, Kiki, with anemia, and he is doing more tests. What is anemia and what causes it?
A: Anemia isn’t a disease itself but a characteristic of many disorders. Anemia is defined as an abnormally low number of red blood cells, the cells that carry oxygen throughout the body.
Editor’s Note: Pale gums, lack of appetite and weakness/listlessness may be signs of anemia. Read more about the signs and symptoms of anemia in cats.
Anemia develops in one of three general ways:
Decreased production of red blood cells by the bone marrow, due to, for example, the feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, chronic kidney disease or ingestion of estrogen in some human skin creams;
Loss of blood, such as from injury, fleas, intestinal parasites or rodenticide exposure; or
Destruction of red blood cells within the body, because of such factors as Mycoplasma bacteria (once called Hemobartonella) or ingestion of toxins such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), onions, garlic or the zinc in sunscreens or pennies.
In a recent study of over 30,000 adult cats, 3.6 percent were anemic. Further testing should determine the cause of Kiki’s anemia, which will guide your veterinarian in treating her.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at email@example.com.