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What is Blood Thickening?

Blood thickening, or polycythemia vera, affects your dog’s entire body because the thicker blood causes problems in all of the major organs depending on the severity of the disease. Too many blood cells slows down the circulation, which reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients in your dog’s body. It also affects the body’s ability to circulate hormones, causing hormone deficiency and hypoxia. The thickened blood from any of the types of polycythemia vera will eventually cause clotting, which can cause heart attack, stroke, and death if not treated promptly, so it is important to make an appointment with your veterinarian right away.

Blood thickening (polycythemia vera) is a blood disorder that causes too many red blood cells to form in your dog’s circulatory system. There are four types of blood thickening, which are transient, primary absolute, secondary absolute, and relative. This is a serious disease in dogs that can be caused by a number of different things and, left untreated, will eventually cause heart failure and death.


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Symptoms of Blood Thickening in Dogs

Since there are several different types of thickening of the blood, the symptoms will vary. They may come on gradually, making it more difficult to notice the problem in the first place. Since you know your pet the best, you are your dog’s best examiner, noticing when he or she just is not acting like their usual self. The four different types of polycythemia vera each have their own individual symptoms as well as similar symptoms that may overlap.


  • Changes in behavior
  • Sluggishness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight lossNose bleeds
  • Unsteadiness
  • Sneezing
  • Drinking less water
  • Lack of energy

Primary and Secondary Absolute

  • Vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Losing weight
  • Pale gums
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Swollen abdomen


  • Bleeding from nose
  • Low energy level
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleepiness
  • Increased urination
  • Blood in urine
  • Blood in stool


  •  Transient Polycythemia Vera comes and goes with flare-ups and remissions
  • Primary Absolute Polycythemia Vera is a chronic disease with unknown origin
  • Secondary Absolute Polycythemia Vera is caused by an underlying condition
  • Relative Polycythemia Vera is caused by the loss of plasma and is usually temporary

Causes of Blood Thickening in Dogs

Transient Polycythemia Vera is caused by the spleen contracting from any emotion such as:

  • Irritation
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Alarm
  • Thrill
  • Shock
  • Surprise 

Primary Absolute Polycythemia Vera is an overproduction of the red blood cells by the bone marrow. This is usually caused by an uncommon bone marrow disease called Myeloproliferative Neoplasms disease.

 Secondary Absolute Polycythemia Vera presents from a decrease of oxygen in your dog’s blood, which is called hypoxemia. The cause of this disorder is one of several things:

  • Serious heart problems
  • Pulmonary disease
  • Decreased blood to the kidneys
  • Serious hormonal disorder

 Relative Polycythemia Vera is increased red blood cells caused by many underlying disorders, such as:

  • Severe dehydration
  • Loss of blood (injury)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Diagnosis of Blood Thickening in Dogs

  • Bone marrow examination from fine needle aspiration
  • Blood work
  • Urinalysis
  • Auscultation
  • Digital Radiographs (x-rays)
  • Electrocardiography
  • Echocardiography
  • Selective angiography
  • Contrast echoaortography
  • Neurologic examinations
  • Abdominal ultrasonography
  • IV urography
  • CT scan
  • MRI

Treatment of Blood Thickening in Dogs

Treatment of blood thickening depends on the type of polycythemia vera your dog has. Although some of the treatments are similar, the administration may be different. The main goal is to thin the blood, but the way to do that varies with each disorder.

 Transient Polycythemia Vera

Transient polycythemia vera usually does not require any treatment because the condition is temporary and will resolve itself when your dog is calmed down.

 Primary Absolute Polycythemia Vera

Treating primary absolute polycythemia vera is more difficult than the others, but the end result needs to be the same: thinning out the blood. Phlebotomy is the best course of action for most cases, which is basically just draining out some blood while administering isotonic fluid. This can be done in the office and your dog can go home the same day in most cases. The veterinarian will probably do several phlebotomy treatments over a period of months to get your dog’s system back under control. The procedure may have to be repeated once in a while if your dog’s blood starts thickening again.

 If the blood levels do not level out from phlebotomy, the veterinarian may try medication, such as hydroxyurea. Chemotherapy medications can also be useful in severe conditions. These drugs will decrease the red blood cell production, but careful monitoring must be done during treatment.

 Secondary Absolute Polycythemia Vera

The underlying illness has to be treated to treat secondary absolute polycythemia vera. If the condition is severe enough the veterinarian may use phlebotomy to thin your dog’s blood right away. This will allow for more time to get tests done in order to find the primary cause of the problem.

 Relative Polycythemia Vera

Since relative polycythemia vera is associated with dehydration or injury, the first thing your veterinarian will do is administer IV fluid or subcutaneous fluid just under the skin. Your dog may be sedated until the blood level returns to normal because agitation or anxiety can hinder the treatment. Once your dog’s blood level is normal you can bring him home but follow-up appointments and blood tests will be required.

Recovery of Blood Thickening in Dogs

In most of these cases, the prognosis is good if the condition is caught and treated before any major organ damage is done.

Blood Thickening Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Jack Russell
9 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Loss of Appetite

Medication Used


My paralyzed rescue dog a jack Rat mix Snoopy has had 2 blood test come back as high red blood cells, we are headed to a specialist soon, I'm worried about my baby. IVDD caused him to lose the use of his hind legs about 5 + years ago, I adopted him almost 5 years ago,

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Jack Russell Terrier
2 Years
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

No symptom

Medication Used

Fluid therapy, phlebotomy.

I have a 2 year old Jack Russell diagnosed with Polycythemia since May. First symptom in May was very weak and no appetite. Her HCT were at 61.6% and her HGB were at 18.5 g/dl. They gave her a subcutaneous fluid therapy and the count of red blood cell went back to normal. Next fluid therapy were given in mid June numbers were already up again at HCT 61.8%. Checks were performed in July and August and red blood cells were normal. In September check numbers went up again and it was needed one fluid therapy and a phlebotomy. In October another fluid therapy had to be done to lower the red blood cells count. Checks needed to be shorter in time as red blood cells were getting higher in less time. Checks are now at 15 days and the HCT is high in every check. Fortunately the dog shows no symptom.

What we are seeing is that the red blood cells are going up in less time and we are afraid each time its getting shorter.

When will be the appropriate time to administrate a Hydroxyurea?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
Thank you for contacting us about Jacky. As the administration of chemotherapy with Hydroxyurea is just one part of the management of polycythemia, it is probably in the best interest of Jacky to have her veterinary team make that decision for her. Given that the time frame between stabilization therapy has grown shorter, it may be a good idea to start the chemotherapy, but without examining her and knowing more of her case, I can't comment on it specifically. Please reach out to your veterinarian and see the answer to this question for her, as I am sure they will guide you in the right direction. I hope that she does well.

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7 Years
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms


My pug had a had surgery of uterus 4 days before... she faints some time while drinking water and doctor is saying her blood is thick is there anything to worry aboit

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Blood thickening may be caused by an overproduction of red blood cells or due to dehydration; overproduction of red blood cells may be temporary or a more complex condition which would need to be discussed with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Indian Dog
1 Year
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Loss of Balance
Lack of App

My dog Haematology Report Shows
Hemoglobin 20.0 g.dl
DLC - Lymphocytes 33%
RBC 10.01 mill/mm3
PCV 68.1%
MCHC 30.3 g/dl

LFT Test
SGPT (ALT) 69.8 U/L
Globulin 3.9 g/dl
He is not eating properly. Takes very little food and water.
Are these readings a cause for worry or indicating to some life threatening disease.
My vet says this may be due to dehydration.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations

It is likely that Tommy is dehydrated, he may require some intravenous fluids to help stabilise his dehydration. I cannot say for sure that there isn’t any disease processing occurring as there are other parameters on blood tests to measure liver and kidney function as well as other organs. I would recommend fluid therapy and encourage eating with appetising wet food. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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7 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


can I get some possible diagnoses?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. The symptom (vomiting) that you describe is non specific and may be due to a variety of different conditions. The vomiting may be caused by something infectious, poisonous, hormonal, allergen, foreign body or due to kidney or liver disease. Without making a physical examination I cannot make a diagnosis based on what you have described. If the vomiting was an isolated incident, there may be no further action needed; if it persists, please visit your Veterinarian immediately to determine the underlying cause and to start Angel on treatment as soon as possible. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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