What is it?
Anaemia is actually a symptom, not a specific disease. It refers to a situation where there aren't enough red blood cells in the dogs bloodstream to effectively transport oxygen around the body.
What causes it?
There are a wide range of different conditions that can cause anaemia. Broadly speaking, these can be divided up into three areas. Firstly, those conditions characterised by loss of red blood cells. This essentially means blood loss - after a serious injury or wound, the dog will become anaemic because they have lost so many red blood cells. Secondly, diseases that result in the destruction of red blood cells, such as Immune-Mediated Haemolytic Anaemia (IMHA, where the immune system malfunctions and starts destroying red blood cells) and Babesia infection (where a parasite attacked and destroyed the cells). Finally, anaemia can also result if the body isn't making enough - for example, in iron deficiency and malnutrition, chronic, long-term disease, kidney failure, or certain diseases of the bone marrow.
What dogs are at risk?
It depends on the type of anaemia, and the specific underlying disease - for example, tumours are more common in older dogs, whereas immune mediated anaemias are more common in young adults.
What are the symptoms?
It will of course depend on how severe it is, but generally, the symptoms include pale or white gums, poor exercise tolerance, breathlessness and panting (even after little exercise, or at rest), rapid heart rate and, in some cases, collapse.
How is it diagnosed?
Firstly, we'll have to look at your dog's blood. We'll use machines in our lab to count the numbers of red blood cells, but then we'll have to look at the cells under our microscope to try and work out what's going on. It may be necessary to use other, specialist tests (such as the Coomb's Test for immune mediated anaemia), and the blood sample may need to be sent away to an external laboratory. Essentially, we will try and work out what the cause is, so that we can correct it. In a few cases, this can be really complicated, requiring lots of different techniques such as X-rays, ultrasound, additional blood tests, and even bone-marrow biopsies to determine what's going on.
How can it be treated or managed?
In most cases, once we can determine the underlying cause and stop that, the anaemia will resolve on its own. For example, surgery to close a bleeding wound; medication to kill Babesia parasites, suppression of the immune system in IMHA, iron supplementation if the diet is deficient, etc). However, if the anaemia is very severe, it may be necessary to carry out a blood transfusion from a donor dog to supply extra red blood cells, and buy us time to work. Sometimes, the cause isn't something we can fix, sadly, but in the majority of cases, it can be either fixed or managed with medication.
Can it be prevented?
It depends on the cause. Babesia infection, for example, can be prevented by using good tick repellents; immune mediated anaemia, however, cannot be predicted or prevented.