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Anemia in dogs is a condition where dog does not have enough hemoglobin or red blood cells (occasionally both) circulating in his bloodstream.

Red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow and are released into the blood, where they circulate for approximately three months. As the RBCs age or become damaged, they are removed from the bloodstream and their components are recycled to form new red blood cells.

Hemoglobin, which is the protein inside the red blood cells, carries oxygen, and red blood cells are also responsible for removing carbon dioxide from your dog’s body.

These cells are made in your dog’s bone marrow, and they circulate for about three months before they break down and need to be replaced.

Anemia is a serious symptom, and may be caused by conditions ranging from autoimmune disorders to injury, toxins or diseases.

Contact your veterinarian immediately for help, as the cause and treatment of the anemia will determine your dog’s prognosis.


Anemia is classified as regenerative or non-regenerative.

In a regenerative anemia, the bone marrow responds appropriately to the decreased number of red blood cells by increasing production of new blood cells.

In a non-regenerative anemia, the bone marrow responds inadequately to the increased need for red blood cells. Anemias due to bleeding or the destruction of existing red blood cells are usually regenerative. 

Symptoms of Anemia in Dogs

If your dog is suffering from anemia, you may notice one or more symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying cause of your dog’s condition.

  • Pale gums, eyes or ears
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Black stools
  • Fast pulse or rapid breathing
  • Swelling of the jaw or face
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss


There are several tests that are performed on the red blood cells. The most common test for anemia is the packed cell volume (PCV); it is also called the hematocrit. A blood sample is placed in a centrifuge to separate the red blood cells from the plasma (the liquid part of the blood). Thirty-five to fifty-five percent of the normal dog’s blood will be red blood cells. If the PCV is below 35%, the dog is anemic. Others tests to determine anemia include the red blood cell count and the hemoglobin count. If these are below 5.5 X 106 /mm3 or 12 g/dl, respectively, the dog is anemic.

Treating Anemia in Dogs

Treating anemia is a two-step process. First, your veterinarian will need to assess if the anemia itself is severe enough to require a blood transfusion, and then she will make a plan for treating the underlying disease or condition. This may require further testing and monitoring.

The treatment options for the underlying condition will vary, depending on the disease. This could include medications or care involving corticosteroids, chemotherapy, or even surgery. Talk to your veterinarian about the treatment she thinks is best for your dog.

Preventing Anemia in Dogs

Although we cannot always prevent anemia, there are some measures that pet parents can take to reduce the risk of their dog becoming anemic. These include flea and tick management, accident and trauma prevention. Keeping toxins like rat poison and ingestion of human medications (like ibuprofen and acetaminophen) away from your dog. Also keeping human foods like onion and garlic away from your dog, and keeping up with annual veterinary visits.


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