Horses, like humans, can be anemic. Anemia is influenced by the amount of red blood cells circulating in a horse’s bloodstream. The average horse has a packed cell volume (PCV) of 40%. While this percentage varies depending on a horse’s fitness levels, a horse is deemed anemic when their PCV is less than 30%. Anemia is typically caused by either blood loss, blood destruction, or reduced blood cell production. Once a horse is classified as anemic, a vet will need to determine why the horse’s body is not producing enough red blood cells or where the red blood cells are going. Some cases of anemia are acute which others are chronic.

Equine Anemia
Equine Anemia

Impacts of Low Red Blood Cells

              Red blood cells are important because they contain hemoglobin. Hemoglobin delivers oxygen to the tissues of the body through the circulatory system. Lack of hemoglobin damages the tissues. There are a few common causes of anemia, which include:
  • Traumatic injury/hemorrhaging
  • Internal Parasites
  • Toxic Plants (red maple leaves, etc.)
  • Ulcers (tendency to slowly bleed)
  • Nutritional Deficiencies
  • Iron Deficiencies
There are other causes of anemia. Some causes are less common than others, yet each scenario is different. The symptoms of anemia vary by the cause as well. Horses with iron deficiencies will appear vastly different than a horse with internal parasites. Those horses that have chronic anemia must receive periodic blood test to ensure that their blood levels are balanced. As always, it is important to remain in contact with your vet and constantly seek their advice.
By Anna Hellman

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