Treating Anemia in Cats: Causes & Guide

Have you ever noticed your cat looking lethargic or weak? Anemia in cats may be the cause. Anemia is a condition where there is a decrease in the number of red blood cells or hemoglobin, which can lead to a lack of oxygen throughout the body. There are different types of anemias in cats, including nonregenerative anemia, hemolytic anemia, and autoimmune anemia. Nutritional deficiency can contribute to anemias, while organ damage and flea infestation can worsen the condition. Global Rescue

Nonregenerative anemia occurs when the bone marrow fails to produce enough new red blood cells to replace those that have been lost, resulting in an anemic cat. Hemolytic anemia happens when red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be produced, requiring a transfusion. Autoimmune anemia occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys its red blood cells. America Humane Society

Anemia in cats can be caused by several factors, including severe blood loss from injury or surgery, iron deficiency, flea infestation, neonatal isoerythrolysis (a reaction between a mother’s milk and her kitten’s blood type), feline immunodeficiency virus, leukemia, regenerative anemias, infections, new rbcs, and other animals. Humane Society International

Preventing anemia in cats involves providing them with a balanced diet that contains sufficient iron, regular blood tests to identify any underlying regenerative anemias before they become severe, and regular check-ups to identify any underlying health conditions before they become severe.

Understanding Anemia in Cats

What is Anemia in Cats?

Anemia is a condition that occurs when there is a decrease in the number of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood, including regenerative anemias. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. When there are not enough red blood cells or hemoglobin, the body can’t get enough oxygen, leading to symptoms such as lethargy, pale gums, and loss of appetite. New RBCs can be produced to combat this condition. Antibodies play a crucial role in fighting anemia in animals.

Causes of Anemia in Cats

There are several causes of anemia in cats, including fleas, parasites, chronic kidney disease, and cancer. Fleas and parasites can cause anemia by feeding on your cat’s blood. Chronic kidney disease can lead to anemia because the kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin that stimulates red blood cell (RBC) production. Cancer can also cause anemia by interfering with the bone marrow’s ability to produce new RBCs. Animals suffering from anemia may have decreased levels of antibodies.

Diagnosis of Anemia in Cats

If you suspect your cat has anemia, it’s important to take them to see a veterinarian right away. Your vet will perform a complete physical exam and may recommend diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) test. This test will measure the number of red blood cells (RBCs) and hemoglobin levels in your cat’s bloodstream. If necessary, your vet may also recommend other diagnostic tests, such as x-rays or ultrasounds, to determine the underlying cause of your cat’s anemia in animals.

Treatment Options for Anemic Cats

The treatment for feline anemia depends on the underlying cause of their condition. For example, diagnosing anemia in cats helps determine whether it is caused by autoimmune anemia or nonregenerative anemia.

  • If fleas or parasites are causing your cat’s anemia, your vet will likely prescribe medication to kill these pests and help restore the levels of white blood cells and RBCs.
  • If chronic kidney disease is causing your cat’s anemia, treatment may involve medications to manage kidney function and stimulate red blood cell production (RBCs).
  • Blood transfusions may be necessary if your cat’s anemia, caused by a decrease in red blood cells (RBCs), is severe.
  • Dietary changes may also be recommended to ensure your cat is receiving the proper nutrients to support feline anemia, red blood cell production, anemia treatment, and diagnosis of anemia.

Causes of Anemia in Cats

What is Anemia in Cats?

Anemia in cats refers to a condition where the feline has low red blood cell count or hemoglobin levels. Red blood cells (RBCs) are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body, and a decrease in their numbers can lead to several health problems. There are many causes of anemia in cats, including underlying health conditions and viruses.

Many Causes of Feline Anemia

Feline anemia can be caused by various factors, such as blood loss due to injury or surgery, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases like hemolytic anemia, and infections caused by bacteria or parasites. Flea infestations can cause severe anemia due to excessive blood loss from flea bites. Certain medications, like chemotherapy drugs, can also lead to feline anemia. Red blood cells (RBCs) are essential for carrying oxygen throughout the body.

Common Cause: Feline Leukemia Virus

One of the most common underlying causes of anemia in cats is the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). FeLV is a retrovirus that attacks the immune system and weakens it over time. As the immune system becomes compromised, it becomes more difficult for the cat’s body to produce red blood cells, leading to severe anemia. Kittens born from infected mothers have a higher risk of contracting FeLV. Therefore testing for FeLV and RBCs should be done on all kittens before adoption.

Identifying The Underlying Cause Of Anemic Cat Is Crucial

Identifying the underlying cause of feline anemia, which affects the red blood cells (RBCs), is crucial for effective treatment. A veterinarian will perform several tests like complete blood count (CBC), urinalysis, fecal analysis, and bone marrow biopsy if necessary to determine what’s causing your cat’s anemic state. Once identified, treatment options may include medication administration, such as antibiotics or corticosteroids, depending on the underlying cause.

Signs and Symptoms of Anemia in Cats

Anemia is a common condition that affects cats, especially those with underlying health issues. It occurs when the number of red blood cells (RBCs) or hemoglobin levels decrease below normal limits, leading to a lack of oxygen supply to the body tissues. Clinical signs are the most reliable indicators of anemia in cats. Here are some symptoms of anemia in cats that you should look out for:

Pale Gums

One of the most apparent signs that your cat may be suffering from anemia is pale gums. Normally, a healthy cat’s gums should be pinkish-red in color, but if they appear pale or white, it could indicate anemia. The reason behind this is that red blood cells (RBCs) contain hemoglobin, which gives them their characteristic red color.

When there aren’t enough red blood cells (RBCs) circulating in your cat’s bloodstream, their gums will appear lighter than usual. You can check for feline anemia by gently pulling back your cat’s lips and looking at its gums. If it is nonregenerative anemia, prompt anemia treatment is necessary.


Another common symptom of feline anemia, specifically nonregenerative anemia, is lethargy or weakness. Your cat may seem less interested in playing or interacting with you and may sleep more than usual. This happens because the body isn’t receiving enough oxygen to produce energy efficiently due to a decrease in red blood cells (RBCs).

If your cat seems unusually tired and uninterested in activities they usually enjoy, it could be a sign of anemia.

Loss of Appetite

Cats with anemia often lose their appetite and refuse to eat or drink water. This happens because the digestive system requires an adequate oxygen supply to function correctly. When there aren’t enough red blood cells present in the bloodstream, food digestion becomes difficult.

If your cat has stopped eating or drinking water for more than 24 hours, it’s essential to seek veterinary attention immediately, as severe dehydration and feline anemia, such as regenerative anemia, can occur quickly.

Other Signs

In addition to these primary symptoms, other signs that may indicate anemia in cats include:

  • Rapid breathing or panting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Cold ears and paws
  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
  • Dark or tarry stools

It’s important to note that severe cases of anemia in cats can lead to serious health problems and even death. Therefore, if you notice any of these signs, it’s crucial to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Diagnosis of Anemia in Cats

Veterinarians usually perform a series of tests to identify the underlying cause. Anemia is a condition where there is a decrease in red blood cells or hemoglobin levels, leading to reduced oxygen supply throughout the body. It’s essential to diagnose the severity and cause of anemia as quickly as possible to provide appropriate treatment.

Diagnostic Tests for Anemia

The first step in diagnosing anemia is performing a complete physical examination of the cat. The veterinarian will check for pale gums, weakness, lethargy, and other signs that may indicate anemia. Afterward, they will recommend diagnostic tests such as:

1. Blood Work

Blood work is one of the most crucial diagnostic tests used to diagnose anemia in cats. A complete blood count (CBC) measures the number and type of blood cells present in the sample. In cases of anemic cats, CBC results show decreased red blood cell counts.

2. Blood Smear

A blood smear involves examining a small drop of blood under a microscope to look for abnormalities in the shape or size of red blood cells. This test helps identify certain types of anemia caused by parasites or immune-mediated diseases.

3. Specific Disease Testing

Some specific diseases can cause anemia in cats; therefore, veterinarians may recommend running additional tests based on symptoms observed during a physical examination and initial diagnostic testing.

For example:

  • Chronic Kidney Disease: A biochemistry panel can help detect kidney disease and regenerative anemia. Additionally, it is important to consider cat anemia treatment.
  • Stomach Ulcers: Abdominal radiographs or ultrasounds can help detect stomach ulcers and regenerative anemia. Cat anemia treatment can also be explored.
  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV): FeLV testing can be done if there are signs that suggest FeLV infection or cat anemia treatment.

Identifying Severe Anemia

Severe anemia occurs when there are very few red blood cells present in the bloodstream. This condition can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. The severity of anemia is determined by measuring the hematocrit level, which is the percentage of red blood cells in a blood sample.

In cats, severe anemia is diagnosed when the hematocrit level falls below 15-20%. When this happens, oxygen supply to vital organs such as the brain and heart decreases significantly, leading to lethargy, weakness, and collapse.

Underlying Diseases Causing Anemia

Anemia in cats can be caused by several underlying diseases or conditions. Some common causes include:

1. Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a progressive condition where the kidneys lose their ability to function correctly over time. CKD can cause anemia due to decreased production of erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production.

2. Stomach Ulcers

Stomach ulcers can cause chronic blood loss leading to anemia. Cats with stomach ulcers may exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and decreased appetite.

3. Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

FeLV is a viral infection that affects cats’ immune systems and bone marrow function leading to anemia. FeLV testing should be done if there are signs that suggest FeLV infection.

Prognosis for Anemia

The prognosis for treating anemic cats varies depending on the underlying cause of anemia and its severity. Once a diagnosis has been made, treatment options will depend on whether it’s acute or chronic anemia.

Generally speaking:

  • Acute Anemia: If caught early enough and treated promptly, most cases of acute anemia have a good prognosis.
  • Chronic Anemia: Chronic conditions like CKD may require long-term management with medications such as erythropoietin-stimulating agents (ESA) to stimulate red blood cell production.

Treatment Options for Anemia in Cats

It’s important to understand that the treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of the anemia. A veterinarian will develop a treatment plan based on diagnostic tests and physical examination findings. The goal of cat anemia treatment is to address the underlying cause while providing supportive care to improve the cat’s quality of life.

Supportive Care

Supportive care is essential in treating anemia in cats. It involves addressing symptoms and complications associated with anemia while working towards resolving the underlying cause. Supportive care may include:

  • Blood transfusions: In severe cases, a blood transfusion may be necessary to replace lost red blood cells quickly. The donor blood must match the cat’s blood type, and it should be screened for infectious diseases.
  • Oxygen therapy: Cats with severe anemia may need oxygen therapy to help them breathe easier.
  • Nutritional support: Anemic cats often have poor appetites and require nutritional support. Feeding a high-quality diet or using supplements can help provide vital nutrients such as iron, vitamins, and minerals.


Medications are used to treat anemia in cats when there is a deficiency or abnormality affecting red blood cell production or survival. Common medications used include:

  1. Iron Supplements Iron supplements can help increase red blood cell production in cats with iron-deficiency anemia. However, they are not suitable for all types of feline anemias.
  2. Steroids such as prednisone can stimulate red blood cell production by suppressing inflammation that destroys red blood cells.
  3. Immunosuppressive Drugs Immunosuppressive drugs like cyclosporine can suppress immune system activity that destroys red blood cells due to autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA).

It’s essential to note that medication should only be administered under the guidance of a veterinarian. The vet will determine the appropriate dosage and duration of treatment based on the cat’s condition.

Increasing Red Blood Cells in Cats as a Treatment Option for Anemia

What do red blood cells do for cats?

Red blood cells (RBCs) are essential components of a cat’s circulatory system. They carry oxygen from the lungs to the body tissues and transport carbon dioxide, which is produced by cell metabolism, back to the lungs to be exhaled. RBCs also play a crucial role in maintaining acid-base balance and regulating blood pressure.

How to increase red blood cells in cats & prevent anemia?

Anemia occurs when there is a decrease in the number of RBCs or hemoglobin concentrations in the bloodstream. The condition can be caused by various factors, including blood loss, chronic disease, nutritional deficiencies, or bone marrow suppression.

Increasing RBC count is one of the treatment options for anemic cats. Regenerative anemias can be treated by stimulating the production of new RBCs through medication or dietary changes. For example, iron supplements may be prescribed if iron deficiency is identified as the cause of anemia.

Blood transfusions may also be necessary for cats with severe anemia or chronic blood loss. In these cases, fresh whole blood or packed RBCs from healthy donors are given to replenish lost cells quickly.

Hematocrit levels can be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment in increasing RBC count. Hematocrit refers to the percentage of total blood volume that consists of RBCs. A low hematocrit level indicates anemia and reflects a decreased number of circulating RBCs.

What diseases prevent red blood cell production through bone marrow suppression?

Bone marrow suppression occurs when there is damage or dysfunction in the bone marrow, where new blood cells are produced. Diseases that affect bone marrow function can lead to decreased production of all types of blood cells, including RBCs.

Some common causes of bone marrow suppression include:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
  • Cancer, such as lymphoma or myeloma
  • Exposure to toxins or radiation

Treatment for bone marrow suppression depends on the underlying cause. In some cases, medications that stimulate blood cell production may be prescribed. In severe cases, a bone marrow transplant may be necessary.

Prevention Methods for Anemia in Cats

Preventing anemia in cats is essential to their overall health and well-being. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options can help pet owners take the necessary steps to prevent anemia from occurring.

Anemia in cats can be caused by various factors, including parasites, poor nutrition, chronic diseases, and genetic predispositions. It is crucial to keep your cat’s environment clean and free of parasites that may cause blood loss. Providing a balanced diet with sufficient iron and vitamins can also help prevent anemia.

Regular check-ups with your veterinarian are important to monitor your cat’s health and detect any underlying conditions that may lead to anemia. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in preventing severe cases of anemia.

Treatment options for anemia in cats include blood transfusions, medications, and increasing red blood cells through supplements or dietary changes. However, prevention remains the best approach.

In summary, preventing anemia in cats involves maintaining a clean environment free of parasites, providing a balanced diet with sufficient nutrients, regular check-ups with your veterinarian, and early diagnosis and treatment of any underlying conditions.


Q: Can I prevent my cat from developing anemia through diet alone?

A: While providing a balanced diet with sufficient iron and vitamins is essential for preventing anemia in cats, it may not be enough on its own. Regular check-ups with your veterinarian are also necessary to monitor your cat’s health.

Q: How often should I take my cat for check-ups?

A: It is recommended to take your cat for annual check-ups. However, if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms, such as lethargy or loss of appetite, you should consult with your veterinarian immediately.

Q: Are there any breeds more susceptible to developing anemia than others?

A: While any breed of cat can develop anemia due to various factors, such as parasites or chronic diseases, some breeds may be more susceptible to genetic predispositions that can lead to anemia.

Q: Can I prevent my cat from getting parasites?

A: While it may not be possible to completely prevent your cat from getting parasites, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk. These include regular flea and tick treatments, keeping your cat indoors, and maintaining a clean environment.

Q: How do I know if my cat is anemic?

A: Common signs and symptoms of anemia in cats include lethargy, loss of appetite, pale gums or tongue, rapid breathing or heartbeat, and weakness. If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, consult with your veterinarian immediately.