Disease

February 2009 Issue

Feline Blood Disorders

Is your cat at risk? Owner vigilance and routine blood tests can reduce the chances of serious consequences. Here's how.

The principal function of feline blood, like that of human blood, is to transport oxygen and nutrients throughout a cat’s body tissues and to carry carbon dioxide and various waste materials away from them. But this is by no means the only vitally necessary role that this rich, red fluid plays. Typically accounting for five percent or so of a cat’s total body weight, the blood is a key contributor to many other processes, such as cell development, tissue repair and the warding off of infection. The components of a cat’s blood are virtually identical to those of human blood, notes Marjory Brooks, DVM, associate director of the Comparative Coagulation Laboratory at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. These components include red cells (erythrocytes), which are critical for oxygen delivery and also assist in the removal of toxic carbon dioxide; white cells (leukocytes), which help protect an animal against infection and parasitic disease; platelets, which promote clotting and wound healing; and a colorless fluid (plasma) in which these and other life-supporting blood components — such as hormones, proteins and salts — are suspended. Disorders directly associated with blood abnormalities may not be as easily recognized by owners as other feline diseases. That does not mean that they are necessarily less serious. On the contrary, says Dr. Brooks, the diagnosis of various feline blood disorders — including low platelet counts, low red cell counts, high white cell counts, clotting problems, blood-related cancers and even blood poisonings — are a common occurrence at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA). And the diagnosis of one of these disorders — feline anemia — is apt to occur "weekly, at least," she says.

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