By: Dr. Lydia Gray
What is it?
Anemia is an insufficient level of healthy red blood cells (RBCs). In horses, it is most commonly caused by chronic inflammation or infection that leads to decreased red blood cell production. However, anemia can also be caused by acute blood loss (such as from an injury), chronic blood loss (such as ulcers or parasites), and autoimmune diseases or toxins that destroy red blood cells. Signs of anemia include pale mucous membranes, depression, weakness, increased heart and respiratory rates, heart murmur, decreased performance and shock.
What can be done about it?
If you suspect your horse may be anemic, contact a veterinarian for a complete physical examination, bloodwork and specific testing to diagnosis the condition and identify common causes such as ongoing infection, intestinal parasites and gastric and/or colonic ulcers. While these problems are being treated, make sure your horse is on an improved plane of nutrition that includes important blood-building ingredients like copper, zinc, cobalt, B-vitamins and others.
What else do I need to know?
Anemia due to iron deficiency is rare in horses on modern diets unless there has been significant blood loss. This is because iron from RBCs is "recycled" as the cells reach the end of their normal life space and are taken out of circulation by the spleen. Oversupplementing iron may interfere with the absorption of other minerals in the diet.
About Dr. Lydia Gray