Q. I just found out that my sweet kitty, Mac, is anemic. He is only 8 years old and still seems so healthy. My veterinarian wants him to have some blood testing done — should I be concerned? Patty, Farragut
A. Patty, you are right to be concerned. Anemia, defined as a low red blood cell count, can be serious.
There are varying degrees of anemia, and the extent of anemia generally correlates with our degree of concern. Anemia can be mild, moderate or severe, with severe anemias often requiring a blood transfusion. Normal hematocrit (percentage of red blood cells) for cats is approximately 30 to 45 percent.
Another point of concern is whether the anemia is regenerative or not. We need to know if Mac’s bone marrow (where red blood cells are produced) recognizes the loss of the red blood cells and is capable of making more to replace the loss.
To simplify, anemia occurs for three basic reasons. First, the body is losing red blood cells for reasons such as trauma, parasites or gastrointestinal ulcers. Secondly, anemia can occur if the body is not producing enough red blood cells. This occurs with chronic disease, cancer or diseases of the bone marrow.
Lastly, anemia can occur if red blood cells are being destroyed. Disease of the immune system can do this, as well as certain medications, toxins and chemicals.
There are two serious viruses that can cause feline anemia — Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. This may be one of the first tests that your veterinarian performs. Your vet will also discuss other tests to classify his anemia, which should help in identifying the cause.
Best of luck to Mac.
If you have any questions regarding your pet, you may e-mail Dr. Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org