You say it can never happen to you, but then one day it does. A coworker needs to find homes for a box full of stray puppies. There’s a sad story about the mother, and on cue all those sad eyes look up at you. Once home, you notice your new puppy isn't energetic and his gums are pale. You get him to the vet right away.
Pale and whitish gums are a common sign of anemia, a deficiency in red blood cells and/or hemoglobin, the component of blood responsible for carrying oxygen. Anemia has many possible causes, and in puppies intestinal parasites are often the culprit. The most common parasites are roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms and coccidia. Although all parasites cause problems, such as thinness and diarrhea, a heavy burden of roundworms or hooks can be especially dangerous to a puppy. Unlike roundworms, hookworms are not visible to the naked eye. Parasites are treatable by your veterinarian, and monthly heartworm preventive can help keep your dog free in the future.
A heavy burden of fleas or ticks can also cause anemia, since they feed off the blood of their host. In severe cases a blood transfusion is often needed. Keep your dog on monthly flea and tick preventives, and if you live near a heavily wooded area, you may need to occasionally treat your yard as well.
Toy-breed puppies are very susceptible to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. In healthy puppies an attack is usually brought on by stress, missing a meal or getting too cold. Although the gums turn pale, the most noticeable symptoms of an attack are lethargy and a wobbly gait. If left untreated, this can cause a coma or death. Many vets and breeders recommend you keep a bottle of corn syrup on hand, along with a syringe. If your puppy has consistent drops in blood sugar, he should be tested by your veterinarian to rule out certain problems such as infection.
More serious causes of anemia, such as an autoimmune disease, are rare in puppies, but they are possible. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia, for example, is when the body begins attacking its own red blood cells. Primary causes are generally unknown. Secondary causes have several potential causes, such as exposure to certain chemicals, or snakebite. Once secondary concerns have been ruled out, and your puppy still isn’t energetic or simply isn’t thriving, your veterinarian will most likely suspect a liver shunt, a birth defect, before a disease.
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