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

Why scruffing a cat is something you should never do according to experts
Here's how to restrain a cat without scruffing him
Gray cat being held by the scruff of the neck

For years, scruffing a cat -- grabbing the loose skin around the neck -- has been touted as a safe and humane way to restrain your pet. Thought to mimic the way that a mother cat would pick up her kittens by the scruff, this restraint method has been used by vets, groomers, and pet owners.

In some cases, handlers would pick cats up by the scruff of the neck. But the views on scruffing are changing, and it turns out that this type of hold can be unnecessarily stressful for cats. There are better ways of holding back a cat to maximize their comfort and safety, and news about the problems with scruffing is starting to get out.

Read more
Tortoiseshell cat health problems to worry about, according to experts
Concerning issues for tortoiseshell cats and how to address them
Tortoiseshell cat sitting in front of a vase of flowers

Tortoiseshell cats, aka torties, are gorgeous, trendy cats that many pet parents prefer. But whenever you bring home a kitty, it's essential to be familiar with some of the common concerns associated with that cat's breed or color. There are many cat breeds that carry predispositions for specific health issues, and when you're aware of those problems, you can watch yours more closely. You're prepared to help if those issues occur. Whether you plan to bring home a tortoiseshell or already have one in your home, here's the information that you should know about tortoiseshell cat health problems.

Understanding the tortie
The good news? Almost no health issues come with your cat being a tortoiseshell, and that's because tortoiseshell is a color, not a breed.

Read more
The 5 best cat Halloween costumes you can get online (and how to pick the best one)
These cat Halloween costumes are an absolute treat
A kitten sitting in a cauldron wearing a witch costume

Hear the word "Halloween," and your mind immediately starts thinking of carved pumpkins, bags of chocolate, and festive costumes. People often look into Halloween costumes for their dogs so they can dress them up for the holiday. But what about cats? Are there cat Halloween costumes out there? Of course! Why should our feline friends miss out on the fun?
You'll want to find the perfect cat Halloween costume for your fur baby. There are plenty of festive costumes for cats to choose from, but it's important to get one that's not only cute, but also safe and easy to get on and off. Your furry friend might not be wild about dressing up, so be sure to consider their behaviors and preferences when deciding which costume is right for them. We've highlighted five great Halloween costumes for cats to help narrow down your choices as you shop.

Considerations for cat Halloween costumes
Unless you have a hairless breed of cat, odds are your kitty hasn't spent much time in clothing. That makes shopping for a cat costume a little trickier. Not impossible, though. If you're willing to take some time with the process, you'll find Halloween costumes for pets that'll suit your feisty feline.

Read more