3 Possible Causes Of Your Dog’s Low Red Blood Cell Count

low red blood cell count: dog and human

Just like humans, dogs can also experience anemia and a low red blood cell count. Contrary to humans, canine anemia is not dependent on an iron deficiency. Despite a loving and caring dog owner's efforts, sometimes a canine can experience unwanted health problems.

Thankfully, there are only a few reasons why a dog may have a low red blood cell count. And after a consultation with a vet and some lifestyle changes, a dog may be able to have a turnaround with their health. 

It is essential that a dog eat a diet that is rich in nutrients and vitamins, drinks enough water, and gets exercise for a good quality of life. Although some breeds may be prone to more specific health ailments than others, sometimes a canine can still suffer from anemia despite their breed. 

If a pet owner suspects that a dog has anemia, it is best to get a pooch tested to understand what’s causing a low count for red blood cells.

 

Why Red Blood Cells Are Critical

low red blood cell count: Why Red Blood Cells Are Critical

To aid with cell metabolism and carry oxygen through the body, a dog relies on their red blood cells much like humans. Oxygen is necessary for cells to carry out their operations within the body and promote well-being. If the number of red blood cells is too low within a dog's body, the result is anemia which triggers fatigue. 

The hormone erythropoietin is produced by the kidneys and is responsible for determining the rate of red blood cell production. When a dog experiences renal failure, proper red blood cell production, and regulation of cell release and lifespan is disrupted. 

If a dog has inherited an enzyme deficiency which causes abnormal metabolism of red blood cells and reduces red blood cell lifespan, it is defined as hemolytic anemia.

 

Signs And Symptoms Of Anemia In Canines

low red blood cell count: Signs And Symptoms Of Anemia In Canines

When a dog is anemic, it is not considered a disease or life-threatening condition. Anemia is simply a reduced amount of red blood cells and hemoglobin present in the bloodstream. 

The amount of red blood cells for a dog is as important as for a human. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. The cells are manufactured within the bone marrow and circulate through a canine's body for three months before deteriorating.

There are a few reasons why a dog can become anemic, including, but not limited to the following factors. 

  • ​Internal bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract triggered by trauma, inflammation, or disease
  • ​Blood loss caused by parasites
  • ​Exposure to ticks, toxins, or poor nutrition
  • ​Chronic disease of the kidneys, cancer, or another immune-related health condition

When a pet parent discovers their pooch is anemic, it can be disheartening. However, there are measures a dog owner can take to help improve their pet's health and well-being.

low red blood cell count: Questioning pug

 Symptoms of anemia in canines are displayed via the following signs.

  • ​The dog's gums take on a pale pink or whitish color
  • ​If a dog becomes fatigued easily during play, walking, or seems listless oftenDark-colored stools may be a sign of blood

​To properly diagnosis whether a dog is anemic, a veterinarian will want to schedule some diagnostic tests to evaluate a dog's fecal matter, blood, urine, and take an ultrasound.

 A PCV, or pack cell volume test is used to measure a dog's red blood cell count. If the number is under 35, a dog is considered to be anemic. Tests that examine a dog's hemoglobin level and complete blood cell count may also be executed.  If a canine has responsive anemia, a dog's bone marrow is actively working to correct the anomaly.


When evaluating a dog's anemia, it is critical to consider past health history, overall condition, and whether parasites are present. Understanding how severe the state of a dog's red blood cell count is important, especially if blood cells are only being destroyed and not replaced.

 

What Causes A Dog To Have A Low Red Blood Cell Count

low red blood cell count: What Causes A Dog To Have A Low Red Blood Cell Count

Aside from anemia, there are other reasons why a dog may have a low red blood cell count. 

Fido may experience a low red blood cell count because of an infectious disease, exposure to toxins, or blood loss due to a chronic condition such as a cancerous tumor. 

Rapid destruction of the blood cells that out-place replacement, or a dysfunctional immune system as a result of a disease can cause a reduction in blood cell count.

 

Two Types Of IMHA

low red blood cell count: blood samples

When a dog is diagnosed with primary IMHA or immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, the dog's immune system automatically destroys any red blood cells released into the bloodstream. The immune system seeks out and destroys a dog's red blood cells under IMHA because it mistakes the cells for a virus, infection, or another type of foreign body. 

A dog can also suffer from secondary IMHA, where the red blood cell's surface is altered by a toxin or drug. When the immune system interacts with the unnaturally modified red blood cells, the cells are attacked and destroyed. When the amount of destroyed red blood cells are not replaced fast enough, the dog becomes anemic.


Loss Of Blood

If a dog is exhibiting signs of internal bleeding due to trauma or has external bleeding that causes a sharp reduction in red blood cells, the count is low. The most insidious form of blood loss involves internal bleeding caused by a tumor, mass, injury to the intestinal tract, or chronic illness.

​Secondary IMHA can be triggered by the following events:

  • ​Exposure to toxins
  • ​Adverse reactions to drugs or allergic response
  • ​Parasites, cancer, or infection

If you suspect that your canine has IMHA, there are certain signs that may display themselves. A dog may exhibit shallow or rapid breathing, have pale gums, show fatigue, or begin eating dirt. 

Treatment for IMHA requires a battery of tests to determine a dog's blood count, the health of the immune system, and to identify or rule out associated diseases. 

Depending on how severe a dog's symptoms are, a vet may require that a pooch undergo intensive care treatment or may be scheduled for outpatient visits.

 


Medical Ailments Connected To Low Red Blood Cell Count In Dogs

low red blood cell count: Medical Ailments Connected To Low Red Blood Cell Count In Dogs

Diseases or infections caused by parasites, insect stings or bites, cancer, or bad reactions to drugs run the risk of being fatal if left untreated in dogs.  An adverse allergic reaction can trigger a loss of red blood cells after a dog has received a bite from a tick or snake. 

Parasites lurking in the intestinal tract because of contaminated water, food, or poor sanitary conditions for a dog can cause internal bleeding and a compromised immune system. 

Having a dog undergo various screening tests can show a vet and pet owner the state of a dog's blood cell count, hemoglobin, and diseases related to anemia.

 

Prevention And Treatment For Anemia In Dogs

low red blood cell count: veterinarian and dog

Making sure to confer with your veterinarian when there are signs of health problems for your dog.  Going for routine checkups can help screen for anemia and other health ailments. 

One method of preventing or treating anemia in dogs is through a proper diet plan. A canine relies on getting adequate forms of nutrients and vitamins from their food to stave off low red blood cells. Additionally, it is critical for a dog to get enough water, exercise, and reduce infection from parasites. 

Luckily, there are plenty of foods and supplements that can be fed to a dog to help with anemia. 

A dog suffering from low red blood cell count can benefit from an increase in iron and B vitamins in their diet. Quality sources of vitamin B9 include carrots, pumpkin, and egg yolks.

 

happy pitbull dog: dog food

Choose to feed your dog a blend of healthy natural whole foods and dog food. Dogs can eat beans or green leafy vegetables for chlorophyll to improve the blood's health. 

Caution should be taken when offering a dog nuts for plant-based protein and iron. Some nuts can be extremely high in fat or may cause gastrointestinal distress in dogs.

Some optimal sources of iron for a dog include the following:

  • ​Ground beef
  • ​Lamb
  • ​Fish
  • ​Liver

Iron is critical to building up a dog's red blood cell count and fortitude. According to sources like Vet Info, a dog needs to consume 35 mg of iron for every one pound of dog food eaten. Canines can eat dog treats made from liver, salmon, chicken, whole grains, or lima beans.

 Supplements such as kelp powder, nutritional yeast, or milk thistle can be beneficial to an anemic dog. Giving a dog pellets of phosphorus helps to staunch bleeding internally. Tablets of sulfur can be administered to a canine to take care of problems related to worms, fleas, and immune problems. 


Other natural treatments that can be given to a canine for anemia include nettle, red clover, and burdock root. Ensuring that a dog has access to a well-rounded diet that mixes a combination of fresh foods and dried foods is best. 

Depending on the severity and cause of a dog's anemia, most cases can be quickly remedied with diet, medication, or a combination of treatments.

low red blood cell count: happy pitbull dog

 

 

 

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Angela Linvill

Angela has been the Hospital Administrator of a multi-specialty/ emergency/ and general practice veterinary hospital since 2005. She is also the Chair of the Contra Costa County Employer Advisory Council. Angela has a Masters of Science degree in Human Resource Management from Troy University. She is committed to helping pet owners make good decisions about the health care of their pets regardless of their financial situation.

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