What Is Anemia in Dogs, and How Can You Help Your Pup if They Have It?


What Is Anemia in Dogs, and How Can You Help Your Pup if They Have It?

Anemia makes a dog feel tired and not like themselves. Here’s what you can do if your dog is showing signs of anemia. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM head shot
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM head shot By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM December 21, 2022 Advertisement Pin FB More Tweet Email Send Text Message Print dog laying on couch next to owner; anemia in dogs
dog laying on couch next to owner; anemia in dogs Credit: Justin Paget / Getty

On This Page

  • What Is Anemia in Dogs?
  • Causes and Types
  • Signs
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Prevention

The sight of blood—especially our dog's blood—can make us feel lightheaded or even a little queasy. But blood is vital, transporting vital oxygen and nutrients throughout our dogs' bodies.

The blood contains red blood cells, which are produced in the bone marrow and have a protein called hemoglobin that carries oxygen. When red blood cell levels drop, anemia can develop and may be life-threatening without proper treatment.

Keep reading to learn more about anemia in dogs, including what causes it and how to treat and prevent it.

What Is Anemia in Dogs?

Anemia is the loss, destruction, or decreased production of red blood cells (RBCs). Rather than being a disease unto itself, anemia is a sign of an underlying health problem.

Anemia is generally classified as regenerative or non-regenerative. With regenerative anemia, the bone marrow can respond to the anemia by producing more RBCs. With non-regenerative anemia, the bone marrow cannot make more RBCs.

Causes and Types of Anemia in Dogs

What causes anemia in dogs? The short answer is "a lot." For simplicity, the many causes of anemia can be grouped according to the four types of anemia: blood loss, aplastic anemia, methemoglobinemia, and hemolytic anemia.

Blood Loss

Severe blood loss makes dogs anemic. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, dogs can go into shock if they have lost more than 30–40 percent of their total blood volume. Causes of blood loss anemia include trauma, surgery, internal parasites, bleeding disorders, cancer, and severe flea infestations.

Aplastic (Non-regenerative) Anemia

Aplastic anemia occurs when the bone marrow cannot produce RBCs. Causes of aplastic anemia include chronic disease (like chronic kidney disease), chemotherapy drugs, and nutritional deficiencies.


Methemoglobin is a form of hemoglobin. Methemoglobinemia occurs when there is excess methemoglobin in the blood. Causes include genetic diseases and chemical exposure.

Hemolytic Anemia

Hemolytic anemia in dogs is the destruction of RBCs. It is commonly caused by an autoimmune disease called immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. Other causes include toxins, infections, and genetic diseases.

Signs of Anemia in Dogs

With fewer circulating RBCs, less oxygen is being transported throughout the body. Therefore, dogs with anemia have symptoms that are primarily associated with a lack of oxygen. Signs will vary depending on the underlying cause and its severity and duration.

Pale gums are one of the most obvious signs of anemia in dogs. Other signs include:

  • Lethargy
  • Collapse
  • Weight loss
  • Dark, tarry stools
  • Visible blood loss
  • Reduced appetite
  • Dark blood in vomit
  • Variably sized bruises
  • Eating non-food items
  • Rapid breathing or heart rate
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)

RELATED: Here's When to Take Your Dog to the Vet

Diagnosing Anemia in Dogs

If your dog has signs of anemia, your veterinarian will need to determine the underlying cause. Diagnosing anemia involves a detailed history of the problem, a complete physical examination, and diagnostic testing.

A detailed history will give your veterinarian some initial clues about the underlying cause. On the physical exam, your veterinarian will look for signs of anemia, such as pale gums and rapid heart rate and breathing.

Blood work is key to determining the underlying cause of a dog's anemia. In addition to blood work, your vet might also perform:

  • Urinalysis
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound
  • Bone marrow analysis
  • Blood smear to analyze RBC size, shape, and color

Anemia Treatment in Dogs

Treatment for anemia in dogs is according to the underlying cause. In emergencies, when a dog has lost a significant amount of blood and is in shock, a blood transfusion is necessary to restore blood volume before treating the underlying cause. Other treatment options for anemia include:

  • Parasite-killing medication (e.g., dewormers)
  • Cancer treatment
  • Bone marrow transfusion
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Antibiotics
  • Surgery

Treatment may be lifelong for anemia caused by chronic disease. In some cases, anemia may be too severe for treatment.

RELATED: How to Make the Most of Your Vet Visit

Can Anemia Be Prevented?

Preventing anemia may be possible if the underlying cause is preventable. Consider these prevention strategies:

  • Block your dog's access to toxic medications and chemicals
  • Keep your dog on a year-round flea & tick preventative
  • Take your dog for annual or bi-annual wellness visits
  • Keep your dog on a leash during walks
  • Manage chronic diseases according to your veterinarian's recommended treatment plan
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