Monday, February 21, 2011

Flea anemia

Sam, a 40-something single man, brought in his cat, Percy, a 3 year old persian.  On presentation, she was as limp as a dishrag, barely breathing, with her heart rate falling, and her gums nearly white.  She was also covered in fleas.

Percy was provided with oxygen and initial bloodwork was started as well as placement of an intravenous catheter.  Her blood pressure was so low, that only one drop of blood could be obtained.  A packed cell volume, or PCV was performed and was 8%.  Normal PCV for a cat is approximately 35-40%; the red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to all the tissues of the body, and without them, life cannot be sustained.

I quickly relayed this information to the owner.  In young, small animals, or those with severe infestations of fleas, these blood-sucking parasites can be the cause of death.  Percy was not far from this fate.  She immediately required an IV catheter for a life-saving blood transfusion from one of our generous feline blood donors.  Our feline blood donation program utilizes employee pets who are healthy, young, indoors, and free of illnesses to provide this life saving medical treatment.

Fleas are blood-sucking insects, and can easily exsanguinate a small cat or dog if no flea prevention is utilized. There are many other causes of anemia, however in this case (and so many sad others) that I have seen, a simple treatment with a veterinarian recommended product can prevent a life-threatening illness.

Unfortunately, many people are fooled by cheaper-priced, "naturally" labeled, ineffective or dangerous products.  Many over the counter products are toxic to cats, and others are purely ineffective.  Flea prevention is safely and easily achieved by following a veterinarian's recommendations (typically Frontline, Revolution, Advantage or others are recommended .  Speak to your veterinarian about your specific pet's needs.)

Why can't you ask the pet-store employee? Veterinarians are trained in prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and control of internal and external parasites.  Veterinarians spend a minimum of 8 years of their life in training to help keep your pet healthy, as well as treat them when they are ill.   It is actually more difficult to gain admission to veterinary school that it is to become a human physician!  (This is because there are only 28 veterinary schools in the US, while there are literally hundreds of M.D and D.O. programs).  On average, veterinarians make a fraction of the salary of a human physician, and undergo nearly the same training as a family practice M.D.  We're not in this for the money.  We're in this because we love pets, just like you.

Luckily for Percy, we were able to locate a compatible donor and provide her with the blood she needed to survive, as well as eliminated the fleas who were stealing this oxygen providing fluid.  She was discharged 36 hours later, and her owner was as happy as we were to have saved her life.  He'll never miss a dose of flea prevention again..... A mere $8 tube of Frontline could have avoided an almost-tragedy, as well as nearly $1200 in emergency veterinary bills.

Read more about flea anemia.  While the internet is a useful tool for learning, always check your source. is a legitimate, veterinarian supported tool for basic information about various conditions.  It is not a replacement for a visit to your veterinarian.

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