Unlike some other canine conditions, the signs of anemia can be relatively subtle. Anemia, or lack of sufficient red blood cells, ranges from mild to severe. Although a seriously affected dog appears ill, mildly affected dogs might just seem "not quite right." Your vet checks your dog's blood for anemia at his annual checkup, but bring your dog in for an examination if he's not quite right.
Your dog's bone marrow produces red blood cells, which bring oxygen to his body's tissues. Cells circulate throughout his body for about 60 days, and parts of old red blood cells are recycled by the bone marrow to form fresh ones. Anemia results from various factors, including trauma, poor nutrition, severe parasite infestation, hypothyroidism, infectious diseases, gastrointestinal ulcers, cancer and toxin exposure.
Normally, your dog's gums should appear a healthy pink. If they're pale, that's a good indication that he's anemic. If your usually active dog becomes lethargic, no longer eager to play or go out for exercise, he could be anemic. He might lose his appetite and get thinner. Seriously affected dogs experience rapid breathing and pulse rates. Dogs with hemolytic anemia, when hemoglobin from red blood cells breaks down too quickly and accumulates in the body, appear jaundiced and might pass dark urine. However, mildly affected dogs might not show any obvious symptoms. Your vet will diagnose anemia after receiving the results of your pet's blood test.
Your vet takes a blood sample from your dog and conducts a packed cell volume test, usually as part of a complete blood count. This test indicates the amount of red blood cells in your pet's bloodstream. A normal percentage ranges from 39 to 60 percent. If the percentage is lower than normal, your dog is anemic. Additional tests include a urinalysis, biochemical profile, fecal parasite examination and a blood smear. The latter test shows whether the bone marrow is still producing new red blood cells. Dogs with severe anemia might require a bone marrow biopsy. Once a cause is found, treatment can begin.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the low red blood cell count. Severely anemic dogs might require an emergency blood transfusion. While iron deficiency often causes anemia in people, it's relatively rare in canines, with the exception of inadequately fed puppies. Prognosis also depends on the cause. For example, anemia resulting from parasite infestation usually resolves quickly once a dog is dewormed or treated for fleas. Anemia resulting from a malignancy doesn't have a good prognosis if the cancer has metastasized.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.