Anemia in Cats



If your cat has anemia, there’s been a drop in the number of his red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the cells in the body and pick up carbon dioxide. A low red blood cell count can result from many causes: blood loss; the destruction of the red blood cells, such as with Feline IMHA, a variation of anemia in which your cat's immune system attacks red blood cells; or an inadequate production of new red blood cells

There are many causes of anemia, including excessive blood loss due to trauma, immune-mediated diseases (when the body attacks its own cells or organs), cancer, genetic defects, disease of the kidneys and other major organs, infectious diseases, and bone marrow disease. Human and pet medications, as well as certain foods, can also bring about this condition. Onions, for instance, don’t only cause bad breath; they can also cause anemia!

All cats are at risk of anemia in one form or another because there are so many different conditions and diseases that result in an anemic state. For example, if your cat has a parasitic infestation, such as worms or fleas, she could experience blood loss and anemia—another reason why flea and tick prevention is so important!
Certain medications, such as cancer-therapy drugs and anti-inflammatory drugs, may also increase the risk of anemia.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Warning signs that your cat is anemic or becoming anemic include:

  • Pale gums
  • Acting tired, weak, or listless
  • Faster-than-normal pulse
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Black, tarry stools
  • These signs can vary from pet to pet and really depend upon the underlying cause of the anemia. In some situations, your cat may present no signs at all!

When a cat is anemic, it is crucial to identify the underlying cause. Your veterinarian will recommend various tests, depending on your pet’s symptoms and history.

These tests may include:

  • A complete blood count to identify how anemic your cat is and including a reticulocyte count to identify if your cat’s body is responding to the anemia and making new red blood cells* 
  • A blood film to look for parasites and blood cell characteristics
  • Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver and pancreatic function as well as sugar levels
  • Electrolyte tests to ensure your cat isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
  • A complete urinalysis to rule out urinary tract infections and to evaluate the kidney’s ability to concentrate urine
  • Specialized tests that can help identify underlying infectious disease (e.g., various titers or PCR testing)

Since anemia is caused by other conditions, it is best to focus on prevention of those conditions. Protecting your cat from common parasites by using preventives is important, as well as having him vaccinated to prevent the spread of disease, such as feline leukemia. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you see any of the common signs of anemia.

Treatment of anemia depends on the underlying condition. It includes stopping blood loss as well as treatment of bacterial, viral, toxic, and autoimmune conditions. If the anemia is severe, a blood transfusion may be necessary.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.


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Reviewed on: 
Monday, April 7, 2014