A low red blood cell count in cats can lead to anemia, which can be frightening for owners. Today, our Lithia Springs vets list common causes of low red blood cell count, and how to increase red blood cells in cats.
Red Blood Cells in Cats
Red blood cells are also referred to as erythrocytes and carry oxygen to a cat’s tissues. The hemoglobin (molecules) within red blood takes oxygen to cells that use the energy your furry friend’s body needs to perform activities.
Carbon dioxide is left behind as a waste product during the process, and red blood cells transport carbon dioxide away from the tissues back to the lungs, where it’s exhaled.
In this post, we'll discuss what causes low red blood cells in cats, the types of anemia our feline friends can experience, the signs they may display, and how anemia is diagnosed and treated. Finally, we'll provide some tips on prevention and good sources of iron.
Causes of Low Red Blood Cells in Cats
Both hemoglobin and red blood cells are naturally protected from damage by your cat’s metabolism. The disease can occur due to:
- Poor metabolism
- Disruption in the production or survival of red blood cells
- Interference in the formation or release of hemoglobin
In healthy animals, red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow and the total number of cells will remain constant over time. Mature red blood cells have a limited life span. This means their production and death must be carefully timed or disease can develop.
For about two months, these cells will circulate and are removed from the bloodstream as they age or become damaged.
If too many red blood cells are lost or production decreases, this can cause a lack of red blood cells and lead to anemia.
Types of Anemia in Cats
There are two types of anemia: regenerative and non-regenerative.
Regenerative anemia occurs when the body is producing more red blood cells. It can be caused by:
- Blood loss (internal or external) from injury, parasites, tumors, accidents, ulcers
- Hemolysis (when the body destroys red blood cells because they appear abnormal)
- Toxins (from accidentally ingesting food, medications, and heavy metals)
Non-regenerative anemia happens when the body is not making more red blood cells. It can be caused by:
- Bone marrow disorders
- Poor diet
- Kidney disease
- Chronic diseases
Chronic blood loss can result in iron deficiency, as can an incomplete diet. Chronic blood loss is the more common cause, as anemia due to iron deficiency is very rare in cats that are fed a commercial diet (not vegetarian or home-cooked, which may be low in protein and/or fat your cat’s body needs and result in serious health problems).
Signs of Anemia in Cats
Anemia is a result of an underlying condition or disease but is not a specific disease in itself. In an anemic cat, the blood will carry less oxygen and you may notice symptoms such as:
- Decreased appetite
- Pale, pink, or white gums
- Increased heart rate
- Drinking more water
- Increased breathing rate
In severe cases, the respiratory effort will also increase as your cat attempts to inhale more oxygen into the lungs to improve the level of oxygen in their body. Untreated anemia can be debilitating and may become life-threatening in severe cases.
Diagnosis & Treatment of Anemia in Cats
The veterinarian will need to collect a Complete Blood Count (CBC) from your cat so it can be tested to tell him or her how many red blood cells, hemoglobin, white blood cells, and platelets your pet has. This can also reveal the type of anemia.
Once the type of anemia is found, your vet can recommend other diagnostic tests depending on your cat’s symptoms to identify the cause of the anemia. Treatment will depend on the severity of the condition, as well as the underlying cause. In some cases, this may include a change in diet or medication, surgery, blood transfusion, or other treatments.
How to Increase Red Blood Cells in Cats
Because anemia in cats can have so many causes, it’s best to prevent it if possible. Ensure your cat is getting all the nutrients he needs in his diet, and reduce the risk of blood loss by scheduling routine exams to have him checked for parasites and other health issues.
Also, stay up to date on vaccines and parasite prevention. When it comes to treatment with blood transfusions, multiple transfusions may be needed before the cat’s body can create enough red blood cells on its own. If you need to boost your cat’s red blood cells, iron-rich foods may help.
Good Sources of Iron for Cats
If your cat is found to be iron deficient, you can help improve his iron count by adding iron-rich foods to her diet, in addition to cat food brands high in iron. Iron supplements can also help.
Iron-rich foods include lean meat such as turkey, pork, beef, and chicken (just make sure to trim the fat off pork products before feeding to your cat, as too much can cause pancreatitis). Fish also makes the list, as do eggs (with the caveat that eggs are an occasional treat and must be cooked well to reduce the risk of food poisoning).
Always get your vet’s okay before adding any new food to your cat’s diet, in case more serious medical treatment is required or he has a food allergy.
If you notice signs of anemia in your cat, make an appointment with your vet right away. They can perform tests and develop a custom treatment plan, which may include actions you can take at home to help him recover.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.