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What is Hemolytic Anemia?

Normally, red blood cells are made in the bone marrow, they age, die and are recycled into new ones. Low red blood cell count can be a result of the bone marrow not manufacturing these cells as fast as the old cells are dying. Another cause of low red blood cell count is autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA), also called Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia or IMHA, which occurs when the body destroys its own red blood cells. There are two types of AIHA, the primary type is not as common in cats and occurs when the body mistakenly attacks it own healthy red blood cells. The secondary type of AIHA occurs when a disease, such as feline leukemia virus (FLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), cancer, or a toxin, alters the red blood cells so that the cat's body sees them as foreign objects and produces antibodies to destroy them. This secondary type is more common in cats.

Hemolytic anemia in cats occurs when there is a loss of red blood cells, either because the body is not producing enough new red blood cells to replace old ones or because the body is destroying them. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin which delivers oxygen via the blood to tissues throughout the body. A low blood cell count, or low hemoglobin, results in anemia which causes reduced oxygen to be delivered to your pet's body tissues.

Hemolytic Anemia Average Cost

From 405 quotes ranging from $500 - $10,000

Average Cost

$3,000

Symptoms of Hemolytic Anemia in Cats

The symptoms of hemolytic anemia in cats are related to lack of oxygen being delivered to the body’s tissues. These symptoms include:

  • Pale gums
  • Listlessness
  • Labored breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Poor appetite

Eventually, breakdown of red blood cells can cause bilirubin buildup which produces symptoms of jaundice. Gums and mucous membranes appear yellowish and dark urine is produced.

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Causes of Hemolytic Anemia in Cats

The following can cause the immune system to destroy red blood cells or reduce the production of these cells by the bone marrow.

  • Malfunctioning of the immune system
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus
  • Feline leukemia virus
  • Parasitic infection
  • Toxins such as onions, zinc or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Bone marrow disorder
  • Cancer
  • Bacterial infection
  • Viral infection
  • Renal disease
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Diagnosis of Hemolytic Anemia in Cats

When a cat presents with symptoms of anemia, your veterinarian will first rule out traumatic blood loss as a cause to confirm a diagnosis of hemolytic anemia. The pet owner will be asked to provide a history of possible injury or toxic exposures. In cases of suspected hemolytic anemia a complete blood count (CBC) test will be ordered by the veterinarian to

determine the number and percentage of red blood cells and also to check for abnormalities in cells. By examining a blood smear under a microscope, your veterinarian can detect structural abnormalities in red blood cells that may be causing the immune system to react to them. In addition, a reticulocyte test which examines immature red blood cells can identify problems with red blood cell production. Tests for feline leukemia virus , feline immunodeficiency virus, and parasites, which are common causes of hemolytic anemia in cats, will be performed.

Additional tests such as urinalysis, x-rays or ultrasound to check for underlying causes such as infection or cancer also may be performed.

Bone marrow biopsies will be performed in cases which decreased production of new red blood cells is suspected as a cause of the anemia.

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Treatment of Hemolytic Anemia in Cats

Hemolytic Anemia is an urgent medical condition and can result in death if not treated by your veterinarian immediately. Treatment will address both the symptoms of anemia and the underlying cause of your pet’s hemolytic anemia.

While mild anemia can be treated with iron supplements, severe cases may require blood transfusion. In addition, intravenous fluids may be administered to counteract dehydration that may result from your pet not taking in enough fluids due to weakness and listlessness from the anemia.

Prognosis of hemolytic anemia depends on the underlying cause and effectiveness of treatment. In primary AIHA, immunosuppressive medications may be administered to stop the immune system from destroying red blood cells. In secondary AIHA, the cause of damage to the red blood cells will be addressed. In cases of hemolytic anemia which bacterial or parasitic infection is a factor, antibiotics or antiparasitic medication will be administered. When viruses such as FIV and FLV are causal factors, the virus will be treated and managed as appropriate.

In cases of primary AIHA, relapse is more likely and your cat will be monitored closely for signs of relapse.

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Recovery of Hemolytic Anemia in Cats

Recovery from hemolytic anemia depends on the effectiveness of treatment of the cause. Cats recovering from hemolytic anemia should be given a low-stress environment, rest, and adequate fluid during recovery.

Where virus such as FIV or FLV are involved, your cat should be kept indoors and separate from other cats to prevent the spread of infection.

With immune system disorders, relapse is possible and you should closely monitor your cat and seek veterinary help immediately if signs of relapse occur.

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Hemolytic Anemia Average Cost

From 405 quotes ranging from $500 - $10,000

Average Cost

$3,000

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Hemolytic Anemia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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American Tabby

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Nine Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Lack Of Appetite

My cat chewed on a garlic plant. Should I be worried? I know it can cause hemolytic anemia.

July 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, So sorry to hear about your cat. Garlic can be very toxic to cat. If he didn't eat much you may not have any issue. If he is very lethargic and not eating, it would be best for his vet to look at him. I hope your cat starts to feel better soon.

July 26, 2020

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Louie

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Siamese

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13 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Yelllw Inner Ears, Throat, Eyes,

How soon should you see an improvement in your cat once it’s been on medication? He was diagnosed with hemolytic anemia. He was give a prednisone shot on Monday and started antibiotics on Tuesday morning. Still no appetite, although I have been using a syringe and feeding him a mixture of milk and syrup. I might see a little bit more energy( not much) although he did purr tonight as I was scratching his head. Just not sure what to expect and how soon should I be able to tell if the medication is helping him improve.

Aug. 9, 2018

Louie's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

There are many different causes for haemolytic anaemia including infections, immune mediated conditions, poisoning among other causes; any improvement would depend on the specific cause and the treatment given; firstly the treatment needs to stop or slow down the haemolysis of red blood cells and then there needs time for the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 9, 2018

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Belle

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Long hair domestic

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1 Year

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Weakness
Sad
Pale Gums

My cat belle she has this sickness. Her CBC came out at 8 she was critical we rushed to the hospital and they did an emergency blood transfusion and after her count was 22 after about 4 days later we took her to her check up it went down to 17 which we are worried and today we took her again 2 days later and it’s still at 17 is she getting better ? Will she get better ? She had a UTI for weeks before this sickness could that have been the reason she got anemia please help?

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Dolly

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Snowshoe

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10 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Anemia
Lethargy
Decreased Appetite

My cat has been severely anemic for a few weeks or longer (her packed cell volume got as low as 7%). She went through all the standard testing: blood tests, chest x-rays, abdominal ultrasound. She was given two blood transfusions and her PCV got back up to 17%. The next step was a bone marrow aspirate, but my vet advised that we just treat for AIHA instead and see what happens. She started Dolly on prednisolone, then added Atopica after about 5 days. Since then, Dolly has shown significant improvement. She's less lethargic, more social, and her appetite has increased--all within a week of starting treatment. She's almost back to her normal self. Is it possible that she's responding this quickly to the medications?

Hemolytic Anemia Average Cost

From 405 quotes ranging from $500 - $10,000

Average Cost

$3,000

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