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What is anemia in dogs?

Anemia is usually considered an indicator of another health issue rather than a primary condition itself. Here, our Harrisburg vets will provide information on the causes, symptoms, and treatment of anemia in your dog. 

What Is Anemia In Dogs?

Anemia is a condition that occurs in dogs when they do not produce enough red blood cells, or when a dog has suffered significant blood loss due to a condition such as cancer or a physical injury.

Because of this, anemia is usually considered a symptom or indicator of another underlying issue rather than a health issue unto itself. 

Anemia is found in 4 different varieties in dogs, they are:

Blood Loss Anemia

Anemia from blood loss occurs when a dog loses a significant amount of blood due to an injury, bleeding disorder, or surgery. Internal bleeding from chemotherapy drugs, cancer, ulcers, or parasites can also cause this type of anemia.

Aplastic Or Non-regenerative Anemia

An aplastic or non-regenerative anemia is caused by insufficient red blood cell production. This type of anemia can appear in dogs who have been poisoned, have bone marrow diseases, parvovirus, chemotherapy drugs, or take certain medications.

Hemolytic Anemia 

Hemolytic anemia occurs when the red blood cells in a dog are destroyed or broken down. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA), immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA), or other non-immune-mediated causes can all cause this type of anemia. Parasites, toxins, hereditary diseases, and low phosphorus levels are examples of these.


Methemoglobinemia occurs in dogs whose blood contains an excess of methemoglobin. Exposure to certain human medications (such as ibuprofen, benzocaine, or acetaminophen) or genetic disorders can cause this.

What Causes Anemia In Dogs?

There are many underlying conditions found in dogs that might be the cause of anemia, they include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer
  • Intestinal bleeding
  • Poor nutrition
  • Bone marrow disease
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Severe blood loss as a result of accident or injury
  • Infectious diseases including canine distemper
  • Medications that interfere with red blood cell production
  • Blood loss caused by parasites such as fleas 
  • Chronic diseases that suppress red blood cell production
  • Toxins or poisons (rat poison or lead poisoning)
  • Tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease

What Are The Symptoms Of Anemia In Dogs?

The symptoms of anemia differ depending on the underlying condition or illness and the type of anemia your dog is experiencing. However, if your dog exhibits any of the following symptoms, it may be suffering from anemia:

  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Swelling in the face or jaw
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Pale gums, eyes, or ears
  • Black stools
  • Fast pulse or rapid breathing

What Are The Treatments For Anemia?

The treatment recommended for your dog by your vet will vary based on the underlying cause of the anemia. That recommendation could be:

  • Parasite or de-worming medications
  • Surgery
  • Blood transfusion
  • Change of existing medications
  • Gastrointestinal medication
  • Chemotherapy
  • Antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs
  • Potassium phosphate supplements
  • Bone marrow transfusion

What Is The Prognosis For Dogs With Anemia?

The prognosis of a dog with anemia is entirely dependent on the condition causing the anemia. Anemia can indicate that your dog is suffering from a potentially fatal condition, such as cancer or poisoning.

Because of this, you should always take any signs of anemia very seriously. If you detect any symptoms of anemia in your dog, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.


Anemia can be avoided by anticipating and understanding its underlying causes. Throughout the year, parasite prevention can be accomplished through medication and the avoidance of high-risk situations. Similarly, keeping toxic substances out of reach of your dog and feeding them a nutritious diet can help prevent anemia.

Certain breeds of dogs (like Miniature Schnauzers, Shih Tzus, American Cocker Spaniels, and Labrador Retrievers), are predisposed to developing anemia. If your dog is genetically susceptible to anemia, make sure you take them to your vet for a regularly scheduled check-up. 

If you think your dog may be showing signs of anemia, contact our Harrisburg vets as soon as possible.

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