Skip to main content

Anemia in cats can be dangerous, but it’s treatable – here’s what you need to know

Anemia in cats: Guide to causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention

Anemia isn’t just a human condition; your feline friend can suffer from it, too. Anemia in cats happens when the number of red blood cells (RBCs) falls below normal levels. The condition can occur for several reasons, including inadequate red blood cell production, destroyed red blood cells, or blood loss.

Though anemia in cats is treatable, it carries risks and requires special care from a veterinarian. What’s more, only a vet can diagnose anemia, but you may recognize some common red flags. If you think your cat is suffering from anemia, it’s essential to visit a veterinarian for medical attention. The sooner your pet receives help, the more likely it is they’ll have a positive outcome.

Cat lying down on wooden table
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Types of anemia in cats

Anemia can be divided into two broad foams: Regenerative and nonregenerative:

  • Regenerative anemia happens when the bone marrow attempts to respond to the reduced red blood cent count by producing new RBCs. Examples of this type include hemolytic anemia and blood loss anemia.
  • Nonregenerative anemia occurs because the bone marrow has failed to produce new RBCs to replace those lost. It occurs due to kidney disease, bone marrow disorders, poor diet, and other chronic diseases.

It’s vital to note that multiple causes of anemia can be present in your pet. This tends to complicate the case, but it’s wise to listen to your vet’s advice.

Cat sleeping on a keyboard
Bogitw / Pixabay

Causes of cat anemia

KeepBear in mind that anemia is usually a symptom of many other conditions. Therefore, it can occur due to several reasons, as shown below:

Causes of regenerative anemia

  • Blood loss
  • Hemolysis
  • Toxins
  • Infections
  • Genetic diseases

Causes of nonregenerative anemia

  • Poor diet
  • Kidney diseases
  • Chronic diseases like liver disease, cancers, and adrenal disease
  • Bone marrow disorders like feline leukemia virus and cancerWhite and gray tabby sleeping

Signs of anemia in cats

The common signs of cat anemia include the following:

  • Weakness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Pica
  • Jaundice
  • Paleness
  • Pale pink or white gums
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drinking water excessively
  • Lethargy

In addition to these signs, your cat may also show symptoms of an underlying disease, such as kidney disease, that’s causing the anemia. Cats that develop anemia gradually tend to show few signs until when the condition worsens.

A vet listens to a Russian Blue cat with a stethoscope
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Diagnosis of anemia

During your visit to a pet’s clinic, the vet will take a blood sample from your cat. The sample is placed in a machine that counts individual cells. Alternatively, the vet can carry out the packed cell volume (PCV) test to observe RBCs’ volume in the sample. The vet will use the test results to confirm that your cat has anemia. He or she will also use the results to determine whether the anemia is regenerative or nonregenerative.

Vet holding an orange cat
Pixel-Shot / Shutterstock

Treatment: Increasing your cat’s red blood cells

Treating anemia in cats is usually specific, especially if your pet has an underlying condition. It can be supportive, symptomatic, or both. In supportive treatment, your cat gets a blood transfusion. This procedure is usually life-saving, particularly when the anemia is severe. Before the transfusion, the vet will determine their blood group and find a compatible donor. Severe cases might need hospitalization for easy monitoring of the condition.

Depending on the underlying condition, your vet may recommend several treatments, such as immunosuppressive drugs, antibiotics for infectious diseases, and iron supplements for iron deficiency. Some cases might also require surgery to address the underlying condition. If your cat has kidney disease, the vet can recommend long-term hormone treatments to help the kidneys produce RBCs. Steroid treatment or other immunomodulatory drugs are usually ideal for anemia that’s caused by an auto-immune disease.

If you’re looking to increase your cat’s iron, good sources include the following:

  • Lean meat like turkey, chicken, beef, or pork (trim the fat off any pork products first)
  • Fish
  • Eggs (but only as a treat and not as a staple of their diet)

Check with your cat’s vet before making any changes to their diet.

A long-haired calico cat eating and drinking

Prevention of cat anemia

They say prevention is better than cure, so here are tips you can use to care for your cat to prevent the condition:

Bear in mind that some types of anemia are preventable when you follow the above tips. More importantly, always take any new signs seriously and seek medical attention.

Man holding a Siamese cat
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Final thoughts

If your cat has anemia, don’t panic. Even though some anemia cases can be life-threatening, seeking early veterinary attention can help manage the condition. It’s even possible to reverse mild cases with the right veterinary care. The recovery period depends on the cause of the anemia. Many cats respond well to treatment with optimal care.

Editors' Recommendations

When can kittens eat dry food? The lowdown on what you should feed them
Tips on feeding your new kitten
A tabby kitten standing in a bowl of kibble

Caring for kittens is hard work, but it's one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime. Not only are you responsible for the most adorable little lives, but you get to watch them grow and thrive! Preparing to keep them fed and happy, however, is a lot more work. 

Just like human babies have different nutritional needs than adults, kittens have different dietary requirements than adult cats. With few exceptions, your new feline fur baby is considered a kitten for the first year of life. (Large cat breeds like Norwegian forest cats and Maine Coon cats mature more slowly and don't reach adulthood until they're two years old.) Have you ever asked yourself, "When can kittens eat dry food?" We'll give you the full scoop on what you should feed your kittens — and when to change their diet.
Do kittens need wet and dry food? 

Read more
What does it mean when cats purr? It’s more scientific than them just being happy
Cat purring is thought to indicate happiness, but it can have a few different meanings
Black and white cat lying on a cat bed on a sofa

Chances are, you've heard that purring is a sign that a cat is happy. And in many cases, that's true. Cats often purr during activities they enjoy, like being petted in that hard-to-reach spot or settling down for a nap in the sun. However, purring can have different meanings and causes than just indicating happiness.

Scientists are still working to understand this feline behavior fully, and new theories about the reasons behind purring continue to evolve. So, why do cats purr, and what does your cat's purr really mean? New information may be coming out every day, but the information that we already have can help you better understand your cat.

Read more
How often should I feed my cat? Here’s what to know about cat feeding schedules
There's a lot more to think about than just what cat food to buy
Cat licking lips over food bowl

Trying to find the perfect food for your cat can be difficult -- just ask any cat owner with a picky eater at home. The shops and internet are home to endless delicious and nutritious options to choose from, but buying the best food for your cat is only half the battle — your cat's feeding schedule is another code to crack. If you've ever wondered, "How often should I feed my cat," you're not alone.

You can feed cats anywhere from one to five times a day, depending on their individual needs. After all, it's no secret that every cat has a distinct personality, right? No matter how often you feed your cat, their feeding schedule can impact their digestive system, energy level, and overall happiness, so finding the perfect balance for them is essential. Like many other animals, cats love routine, and once they learn their feeding schedule, they'll happily remind you of it.

Read more