Anemia in Cats

Rags 2-9-09 (2 months before he died)
Rags 2-9-09 (2 months before he died)

What is anemia in cats? Anemia or anæmia/anaemia means without blood. An anemic cat is a cat that has a reduced number of red blood cells or hemoglobin or both. Anemia in cats is not a disease in itself, but rather, a result of another disease process occurring in the cat.

An owner may recognize anemia in older cats and in cats in general by the lack of pink in the cat’s gums or from the cat’s behavior, which is usually very tired and listless. Also, if you let your cat outdoors, you might notice an odd behavior of licking rainwater or melted snow. They crave minerals if they are anemic and try to acquire them from those sources.

If your cat has pale gingiva (gums) and lethargy, more than likely, your vet will want to do some bloodwork on your cat to have a look at the red blood cell count. The three tests that your vet can do to see if your cat is anemic are:

  • packed cell volume (PCV)
  • red blood cell count
  • the hemoglobin count

The most common test is the PCV test. In this test, your vet will place your cat’s blood in a centrifuge, separating the red blood cells from the plasma. 25%-45% of a cat’s normal blood will be red blood cells. If there is less than 25%, your cat is considered anemic.

There are other tests that your vet may want to perform once the red blood cell count test is done. They mainly involve the testing of bone marrow. The bone marrow creates and produces red blood cells. So, these tests help a vet determine if the bone marrow is doing what it should. Those include:

  • blood smear
  • reticulocyte count
  • bone marrow biopsy or aspirate
  • biochemical profile and urinalysis
  • fecal exam

Beyond bone marrow, your vet may want to do the following tests check organ functions and electrolyte levels, or parasite levels.

  • biochemical profile and urinalysis
  • fecal exam

Lastly, your vet may want to check your cat for the following diseases, as they are historically known to cause anemia in cats:

  • feline leukemia virus
  • feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

There are other reasons for anemia in cats, however. That is why so many tests are required—to determine which of these diseases might be causing the anemia. Your vet will probably have a better idea of what test to perform based on the age and condition of your cat.

  • Diseases that cause blood loss
    • Trauma or injury that severs blood vessels or internal organs
    • Parasites (fleas, hookworms, and ticks)
    • Tumors of the intestinal tract, kidneys, and urinary bladder
  • Diseases that prevent proper clotting of blood
  • Diseases that cause red blood cell breakdown (hemolysis)
    • Autoimmune disease
    • Blood parasites
    • Chemicals or toxins
    • The Feline Leukemia Virus
    • Neoplasia (cancer)
  • Diseases that decrease the production of red blood cells
    • Any severe, chronic disease
    • Autoimmune disease
    • Chemicals or toxins
    • The Feline Leukemia Virus
    • The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
    • Neoplasia (cancer)
  • Very poor nutrition or nutritional imbalances

How to increase red blood cells in cats?

If you have a cat with anemia, there are some things that you can do to increase the red blood cell count for them. If it is a severe case, your cat will more than likely have a blood transfusion, which might be performed right after the results of the blood sample are in. This quick process is to ensure the cat is stabilized while more tests can be done to understand why this is happening.

Other options include:

  • Iron or Vitamin B Supplement for mild to moderate anemia (below 30% red blood cells)
  • Anabolic Steroids – if the anemia is not too severe
  • Erythropoietin or Epogen, Eprex or Procrit
  • Darpepoetin Alpha (Aranesp) – which The Feline CRF site says has a lower risk of a reaction than Epogen/Procrit and is the ESA of choice
  • Feline Erythropoietin
  • Blood Transfusions

More than likely, there is chronic kidney/renal failure in an older cat like Rags. Therefore, the kidneys no longer produce the needed erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells.

To learn more about anemia in older cats, especially cats with Chronic Renal Failure (CRF), please visit this very informative website, complete with references and links to formal studies on renal failure: TANYA’S FELINE CHRONIC RENAL FAILURE

This page is included on Floppycats.com to educate owners about anemia in cats. It is not here to replace veterinary advice but rather to supplement it with explanations and options. Always consult a veterinarian before starting any regimen on your cat.

Do you have suggestions to improve the information on this page? If so, please send Floppycats.com an email and let us know!

Additional Cat Kidney Information on Floppycats.com:

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Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,

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60 Comments

  1. 10 years ago we had a beautiful male flame point ragdoll Sonnie Delight. He started doing strange things like liking the tile near the litter box and in the shower and then he peed on my husbands side of the bed. I thought he had a bladder infection and took him to the vets. They sent me to the hospital with him and said he was dying. I had them do the bloodwork and took him home for the night. The next day they called and said to bring him in he needed a blood transfusion. He lived for 6 more months thanks to predisone and every three weeks blood check ups but his quality of life was never the same. They were baffled and called it an autoimune disorder and could not tell why or how. We spent money on several blood transfusions and the last three did nothing. He was young and well one day and not the next. We need to educate ourselves on this evil killer of cats.

  2. Check out ltci or t-cyte for felv or fiv may save your cats life 80% of cats showed improvement some came back with neg.felv test after using it’s experimental but worth a try

  3. ben and rosie says:

    hi everyone found this page the other day frantically scouring the internet to help my precious 17 year old cat Rosie,my soulmate pretty much..she is anemic .i had her since she was a kitty.never any major health problems here whole life til a couple years ago.figured out she had high thyroid which she takes methimazole for now. she always was around 10 lbs and when diagnosed with thyroid issue she weighed 7lbs about 2 years ago. beginning august 2012 i discovered she had fleas.went to vets ,and found out she was anemic as well,weighed in at 4.5 lbs.i noticed her weight loss but assumed she was just winding down naturally in life. so the vet put her on doxycycline and prednisolone and frontline.about 3 weeks later her R blood cell count was up from where it was before the discovery of anemia and before her meds cycle but still lower than should be(she was eating better and wieghed 5 lbs)..the fleas were gone around sept 14th) after her second dose of frontline.we rechecked her R blood cell count (sept 19th) and it was declining again.so know she is back on the prednislone for now .i have ordered some natural holistic products , brand name petalive,one is called immunity and liver support and the other is tf-defense.i am going to administer them to her as soon as the mail man brings them,also i am going to search now for b-12 and iron supplements (NOT iron carbonate or iron oxide) online .one website says liver ,nonfatty meats ,whole grains and legumes can help and are all ways to try help build boost R blood cells. at this point i figure what is there to lose?.the vet is at a standstill pretty much because she feels Rosie is too weak and probably would not survive a blood transfusion or a bone marrow biopsy to find out more of why the anemia continues and her cell count is still down(and not to mention the financials of it). not sure if the vet knows if her anemia is regenerative or nonregenerative or if that can be discovered somehow (blood smear) other than a biopsy? i am going to probably get a red cellcount check again soon and a full blood panel test(liver ,kidney etc toxin level) tested soon again.since she started this last round of prednisolone she seems to in distress .which seems strange perhaps?maybe she is feeling better,and that is her senility acting up which we believe she has to an extent?also i am pretty sure she has lost her hearing since she doesnt run from the vacuum anymore(lol) It is like if she is going to pass,i want her to pass at home and peacefully,not that euthanasia is not peaceful.Its just hard drawing the line,to decide,dont want to be selfish,hard to let go.
    ok thats enough from me just wanted to let others know there is a lot of info on this internet just put your google to work and do some digging to try to help your pets (family members) when all seems hopeless .perhaps i will follow up with an update on how things turn out. thanks for reading
    Love, from ben and rosie 🙂

  4. Carmen Williamson says:

    Dave – I’m so sorry to hear about your loss (and everyone else’s). It may help you to know that when my grandmother passed a few years ago one of my cousins got a text shortly after from a friend who is into angel readings. She said my Grandma and Grandpa were in heaven and dancing with Snoopy. I don’t know a lot about this angel reading thing, but my cousin didn’t even know who Snoopy was. Being decades younger than her I did… Snoopy was the cat they had when my Grandfather passed away 20 years ago. For whatever that’s worth.

    I adopted a sick little shelter kitten last spring and in November he was diagnosed with immune mediated hemolytic anemia which I have been told is extremely rare in cats although humans and dogs are diagnosed fairly regularly. His RBC was down to 13 and he was hospitalized for observation and potential transfusion. They started him on steroids (prednisone for cats) and did an ultrasound which showed his spleen was 7-8 times the size it should be. This sounds similar to what Jesse mentioned… his spleen was killing off his RBC faster than his marrow could make them (his marrow tests showed levels 3.5 what they should have been). We tried one immune suppressant until January and then started him on a chemotherapy drug, Leukeran when the original didn’t seem to be working. He has stabilized on Leukeran and we got him off the steroids. I searched this article because he has been licking boxes, paper and cement blocks more and more every day. I’m taking him in for a check-up ultrasound this weekend and will be asking about the Vitamin B / Iron supplements that my vet has never even mentioned… thank you for the great article!!

    P.S. Pet insurance is a blessing… $35 a month for peace of mind and saving thousands of dollars in diagnosis and treatment… consider it…. it’s worth every penny!!!

    1. What company do you get your pet insurance from?

      1. Carmen Williamson says:

        We only have PetSecure here, they work with the shelters.

  5. Losing your best friend can, and is the most hardest time, you will deal with. We lost our Tommy, a few days ago. We were going through a bad heat wave. Our other cats were keeping cool in all places. Tommy was a cat that, was a rescue cat, and we took him to the clinic and for what turned out, to be an ear infection. In april. Was told he was 4 to 6 years old. And when the lost of wieght was rapid. We took Tommy to a different clinic, and was told was 14 to 20. This week, and was he was very anemic. And only a very short time left. He was never a lap cat. Did liked to be petted. And would wake you up for breakfast. And would sleep in daughters bed, the last days, he was on my lap, or in my chair, it is something, I do not know why, he was just days before, sleeping in bathroom, was cool there. We had Tommy for about 15 months. We never had a kitty that was already old, and didn’t know about, all that is needed to be tested for as they approach 7 to 8 years. Are other cats are 5 and 6. And are also missing Tommy. They will not go near daughters room. Why?

  6. i know that anemia comes from many causes, but some that people need to be aware of and usually aren’t are, GARLIC (all types) , ONIONS (all types), and LILIES (most types)… these are all HIGHLY TOXIC to cats, and to a lesser extent dogs… I offer this knowledge in order to help prevent further heartbreak of pet parents…

    1. Hello Kris, Is this a fact that GARLIC (all types) , ONIONS (all types), and LILIES (most types)… these are all HIGHLY TOXIC to cats because my cat is at the hospital getting his blood second tranfusion if this is the case there may have been some of those food items in chips that my husband fed to him.
      Please reply ASAP?
      Donna

  7. Jessy Walker says:

    This article makes me so sad. in 2007 I lost my 10 year old lilac point Siamese Brandy to anemia. Got up one morning and she was kinda stumbling – I of course took her straight to the vet immediately and after some blood work they told me her blood was like pale kool-aid – like pink water, and she was almost white in the gums and ears, and her body temperature was very low. She had a blood transfusion and she perked up. A few days later it was the same thing. I remember sitting behind my corner TV stand with her – she was back there hiding. The vet told me it was some kind of autoimmune anemia – as fast as her body was making red blood cells it was killing them. Poor Brandy could barely move. 5 days after it all started I had her put to sleep. As I got up from sitting next to her on the couch to get ready to go to the vet, she meowed and tried to follow me but couldn’t even stand up. I came back out to the living room and my friend was crying – he loved her as much as I did. I cry just thinking about it. Quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever been though. Damn anemia. No idea what caused it, but it was very fast. My beautiful Bran was perfectly healthy one day and gone 5 days later. 🙁

  8. I’m so sorry about your kitty. I know what you’re going through. My 13 yr. Ragdoll, Bear, died May 15th of double lung cancer-there was no treatment or cure. He too started hiding, which was not like him at all. He was my best furry friend, following me everywhere. He left a big hole in my heart-I miss him everyday.

  9. Sorry to all who have lost. I just found out my 15 y/o has cancer, Chemo will not cure, suddenly this past week I noticed he was hiding. All else was normal so on a hunch I took him in all tests except blood counts were fine. His RBC was 15. Long story short ultra sound revealed nodules in kidney, spleen and intestines. Spleen biopsy and infection labs not in. Prior xray on thurs show nothing!? Did blood transfusion brought up to 21 but they only gave him 1 week. why would I put him thru that. And spend $2,900 for 1 week! I am so sad he is a total love. I just am a mess. Does anyone know of any RBC boosting cat food?

    Thanks and God Bless!

    1. Stephanie says:

      Donna-
      I don’t know of any RBC boosting cat food, but when my Chubby (who was 15) was diagnosed with kidney failure in Feb 2011, we found out he also had anemia and needed to do Epogen injections along with B12 shots. This did seem to help him and kept his RBC above 20%. He eventually succumbed to the disease and we put him down in December to end his suffering. (He had started to suffer other complications and probably would have passed within another day or two). I’m very sorry to hear of your kitty’s suffering as I have another who is 14 and has feline nasal adenocarcinoma- which will eventually take him as well. I hope this offers a little insight and may you and your baby be comforted during this rough time.

    2. Michelle Spayde says:

      There is a medication to increase RBC, but it is dangerous and should only be used in emergency situations. I think that your situation qualifies, and I am so sorry for what you are going through!

      I’m going to try to find the name of the med for you.

      1. Michelle Spayde says:

        The name of the drug is Epogen, and you would need to discuss it with your Vet.

        I learned of this drug via a question that I asked on a Cat Vet page. Here is a copy/paste of what the Vet said: “There is also a drug called Epogen which is sometimes successful in fighting anemia for long periods of time, but should be reserved for life-threatening case.”

  10. Dave – just went through this with our cat Chata – 17 yrs old. She was up there in age, but much like you, she decreased rapidly. We went though that ‘What if….’ period. My wife is a mess with this. Its the first time she has lost a companion so close. The cause of Chatas decline…anemia unexplained until we located cancer in her lungs. So many possible causes for the anemia exist. Do not feel guilty. We have; thinking we could have done better – but not so. We did all we could, including sub q. fluids for a couple of weeks. God does have His timing. Does it make it easier? Of course not. Grief is grief…missing is missing. Just let it take its course. Funny thing…we let Chata outside in our backyard for the last 2 days before we knew we had to relieve her from the pain in this world. She sprang alive in total search mode – covering every square inch of that yard. We will never forget those last 2 days. Point is – cherish the time you had. Its hard to describe now, but the memories you have will be much more enjoyable as time progresses. Right now the wound is deep. Let that heal. Does it get easier? Wish I could say yes. But acceptance will come. Not out of must, but need, if that makes sense… It will. Just dont feel guilty as if there was something more you could have done. God does have His plan and I for one believe our pets are a part of that plan.

    We will join them as we enter in the kingdom; jumping into our arms. Rest assured.

    God bless and please pray for peace.

    Dave

  11. Dave Palmer says:

    Susan that is so kind of you , bless you and everyone who has helped me through this pain , your all very special and i hold a special place for you all .

    1. Dave,

      Your welcome. Our pets become so special to us as we have them through the years. Since I am of the belief that when we as humans die there is life after death and knowing that God cares for the animals just as much as he does for us, I’m hoping that in his big plan of things the possibility exists that we will see our pets again. That would be an awesome occurrence without a doubt., All the best to you.

  12. Dave,
    I’m sorry to hear of your loss. I have experienced losses with my pets that have also left me feeling as you do. After reading your post describing the circumstances/symptoms leading up to your cats illness I wanted to give you information that might explain the reasons behind your cat becoming ill. I have been back and forth to the vet with my cat as he has been receiving care for what it sounds like your cat also experienced. If you will go to the website: marvistavet.com and on their homepage click the icon that says: “pet library,” once you are taken to that page, scroll down (subjects are in alphabetical order) until you see “feline infectious anemia” and click on that. I think you might find some of the answers your looking for if not all. It’s a good place to start.
    My heart goes out to you and I will say a prayer for you that God will comfort your heart.
    Susan

  13. Dave Palmer says:

    Hi jenny i have emailed her , thankyou i am just waiting for a reply , i am just finding it so hard to cope as everywhere i look i see things that remind me of her , i see some of her cat hair and im like to i clean it up or do i leave it ? Places where she used to sit specially on the sofa i found myself stroking the part on the sofa last night while crying as it was where she would settle if not on me , i keep thinking and wishing if i could of done more yet 1 week prior to her death she visited the vet and was giving a clean bill of health just an injection of antibiotics for some sores on her back legs , she never went outside and when she did venture out she was with me and would sit with me sometimes licking the path . I just find it hard as the vets said she looked healthy and was fine yet within a week she got quiet and within 2 days it had hit her so hard she couldn’t pull through , she had no cells left in her she couldnt move she looked so frail and all this within 2 days and being told she looked healthy and fine by a vet ? Can it really hit her all of a sudden or has the vet mis judged her when she had a check up as it’s so hard to come to terms with her loss when being told she was fine , can it really take her life within 2 days and how could this of happened , im sorry but i keep looking online for answers which the vet did not have for me and i need closure on the matter , i miss her dearly , i stroke her picture every morning and sit in the garden with her where she is now burried , i wish she could be in my arms just 1 more time ,

    1. did the vet look at her gums>? My kitties were yellow which is why I rushed her in and I keep thinking I should have noticed it days before… if she had been sick for a long time…

  14. Dave Parler says:

    Please can you get her to email , i need to feel better .

  15. Dave Parler says:

    An animail communicator i would do and try anything i miss her dearly it hurts .

    1. you might search for some in the UK – the one I use is based here in the USA. she can talk to izzy and email you about it – but i think she prefers over the phone. just make sure that the person you choose has good referrals behind them.

  16. Dave Parler says:

    We do have another cat her sister but izzy was always mine , we had a very special bond , every morning she would wake me up for breakfast , she would meow like crazy got food she would then settle on my lap for morning cuddles before play time , everytime we got a board game out she was there she would sit and watch trying to Hey involved , when back from shopping she would be in the bags to see what we had bought , she would even wash her paws in the water bowl , she was unique in so many ways , i feel she has been taken from me way to soon , I’ve been constantly feeling sick since it happened , i can’t eat and i can’t seem to let go .

  17. Dave Parler says:

    I had to bury her today i couldn’t stand up i didn’t want to do it but i had to , what should of taken me an hour took me almost 5 , i miss her dearly and would be most greatful to any advice anyone can share on the grieving side . I am totally lost without her , she was my life she ment everything to me . Thankyou jenny for your kind words of support .

    1. i know the pain, but i had a lot of time to say goodbye to my old man. you might go to an animal shelter this weekend and just volunteer to pet the kitties! Think of the most positive ways to honor her and follow through with them! She’ll help you figure it out!

  18. Dave Parler says:

    Thankyou Jenny It’s so hard trying to deal with her loss , i has 2 hours sleep last night and when i awoke to feed my other cat i just broke down , can’t handle her loss , she was and has had a huge impact on my life .

    1. Dave, she is probably there with you in spirit and helping you through the loss. Think of the most positive ways to honor her and follow through with them! She’ll help you figure it out!

    2. I lost my 5 year old kitty on New Years Eve. She was 5… happy healthy a few days ago. On New Years Eve I noticed her laying on the counter listless. I got her to the vets. He said her red blood cell was at 16 percent. They started her on meds and we were told if she made it through the night she would have a chance. She didn’t make it. I have cried non stop for 2 days. If she had cancer or something like that I could understand it but this was so sudden and for no reason! I know your loss was several months ago but wanted to tell you how sorry I am. I have been looking for an answer as to what may have caused this.

  19. Dave Parler says:

    Dear all , Today i lost my cat to which the vet had no idea as to what might of caused this . My cat izzy ( spitting image ) of the felix was so adorable but these past few days we noticed a change in her , she wasnt her normal chatty self , she started to go off her food and then started to pee in certain areas , she was 5 and healthy and happy yet we took her to the vets today as she had started to hide away under the table , the vet then hits us with it , she’s anaemic and has no blood cells left , whatever hit her it took her down within days , she was an indoor cat , loved by us and now taken from us way to soon . I miss her dearly we have to pick her up tomorrow to bury her , can’t handle it , she has been a massive part of my life .

    1. Dave! I am so sorry for your loss – how tragic! My heart goes out to you. Heaven is a little brighter now that Izzy is there!

    2. Karla Rojas says:

      I’m Sorry for your lost. My cat is about 2y/o and he has a tbc count of 7…I don’t know how this got that low probably within 2-3 days. He always keeps to himself and he is an in/out cat s it was very hard for me to catch it on time. He is now very sick and I didn’t want it put him to sleep since he is not really in pain. I can’t do the blood trans since its so much money and chances are he won’t make. I am praying that he will make it with forced liquids, food, iron supplements the vet game me, antibiotics, NAND some kind of steroid. BUT I am really if he passes, we can not do so much for our loved pets, I love him very much and I know he is and will be ok no matter what happens. God bless all who Iove and don’t Abuse pets. Please pray for my little Appu. Thank you no take care.

  20. my cat ginger has anemia the vet doesen’t know the cause but his red blood cell count is at 18%:( and the vet said we may be forced to make the hard decision to put him to sleep he also has fleas ( which we’re in the process of treating) could the fleas be a cause? he used to weigh 23 lbs but now he’s 11 lbs does anybody havew any ideas on treatment or the cause of his Anemia?!?! P.S. Ginger is 12 yrs old

    1. Yes, could be fleas, could be kidneys. Your vet would be the best person to diagnose this. I will pray for Ginger that everything ends up ok.

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