What is Anemia Due to Iron Deficiency?
Kittens that are nursing have a higher chance of developing an iron deficiency because of the low levels of iron in milk. This typically resolves as the kitten grows older and is transitioned to a meat-based diet.
Anemia due to iron deficiency in cats is a blood disorder in which the red blood cell mass is decreased. Red blood cell mass is the total mass of erythrocytes, which are a type of red blood cell that contains hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen into the bloodstream. In cats, iron deficiency anemia is usually caused by chronic blood loss, but may also be caused by an improper diet. Anemia due to iron deficiency is very rare in cats that are fed a commercial diet.
Symptoms of Anemia Due to Iron Deficiency in Cats
Symptoms may vary depending on the severity of anemia. Some cats may not show symptoms at all, and anemia due to iron deficiency is often an incidental finding. Seek immediate veterinary attention as soon as you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Eating soil or rocks
- Eating litter
- Other unusual food cravings
- Rapid heart rate
- Reluctance to move or exercise
- Pale mucous membranes
Causes of Anemia Due to Iron Deficiency in Cats
There are a few different causes of anemia due to iron deficiency. The most common is chronic blood loss. This may be caused by a large number of diseases, particularly those affecting the blood. Another cause of anemia due to iron deficiency is an improper diet. This is usually found with a vegetarian or home-cooked diet. Vegetables have lower levels of iron compared to meat products. Cats require a diet that is high in fat and protein. Feeding your cat vegetables or a diet that is low in protein and/or fat can cause serious health problems, including iron deficiency. In some rare cases, exposure to toxins may cause iron deficiency anemia.
Diagnosis of Anemia Due to Iron Deficiency in Cats
Your vet will be able to make a tentative diagnosis based on a thorough physical examination and presentation of symptoms. Be sure to inform your vet of the extent and duration of your cat’s symptoms, as well as any previous history of blood disorders that you know of. Your vet may also ask for your cat’s complete medical history, so be prepared to provide this information.
Your vet will make a definitive diagnosis by performing blood tests. These may include complete blood cell count, blood chemical profile, and blood smear. Additional diagnostic testing may be utilized, particularly if chronic blood loss is suspected.
Treatment of Anemia Due to Iron Deficiency in Cats
Treatment may vary depending on the cause of the anemia. Your vet will be able to advise you on a treatment plan based on your cat’s specific needs.
The primary objective of treatment in animals with chronic blood loss is to stop future blood loss. For milder cases of iron deficiency anemia, oral iron supplements are generally prescribed. This is usually in the form of ferrous sulfate, but ferrous gluconate and fumarate are also commonly prescribed. These increase iron absorption in the red blood cells and may cause side effects. Side effects may be minimized by administering a dividing the dose into several smaller doses.
In cats that have been fed an improper diet, dietary changes may be sufficient in treating iron deficiency anemia. In some cats, iron dextran injection may also be an option. However, these injections are painful for animals, so oral supplementation is typically the treatment of choice. In some severe cases of anemia, blood transfusion may be required. This will require your cat to be hospitalized for a short period of time in order to prevent an adverse reaction.
Recovery of Anemia Due to Iron Deficiency in Cats
Recovery and prognosis may vary depending on the treatment method. Always follow your vet’s post-treatment and/or post-operative instructions carefully. Always administer any medications exactly as directed for the full duration of the recovery period. Never administer any over-the-counter iron supplements made exclusively for human use to your cat. These can worsen the condition and may cause overdose.
Side effects of iron supplementation are generally mild, and mostly involve gastrointestinal irritation which may result in darker feces than usual. If you notice any side effects, contact your vet immediately. They may be able to prescribe additional medications to manage the side effects.
If you have been feeding your cat an improper diet, you will need to transition to a commercial diet that is high in protein and fat.
For mild cases of anemia treated with oral iron supplements, follow-up appointments may not be required. For more severe cases, your vet may schedule follow-up appointments as needed to monitor the condition or to administer additional transfusions, if required.
If you have any questions, or if the condition does not seem to be improving despite treatment, contact your vet immediately.