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How to Increase Red Blood Cells in Cats (Vet Answer)

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By Dr. Iulia Mihai

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Dr. Iulia Mihai

DVM MSc (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Erythrocytes, also called red blood cells, are circulating cells that lack a nucleus in the adult phase, with a role in tissue respiration. If the number of red blood cells decreases too much, anemia can result. The number of your cat’s red cells can be seen at a complete blood count (CBC), which is a blood test used to look at your cat’s overall health and detect a wide range of conditions.

If your cat has a low red blood cell count, you can increase it by giving iron supplements to your cat (but not before talking to your vet) or feeding them iron-rich foods like lean meat, fish, and eggs.

In this article, find out why red blood cells are important, what causes a low red blood cell count in cats, and how to increase it.

Why Are Red Blood Cells Important?

Red blood cells play an important role in your cat’s health, as they carry fresh oxygen throughout the body. Hemoglobin is the protein inside red blood cells, and it ensures the transport of oxygen. Red blood cells also have the role of removing carbon dioxide from the body, transporting it to the lungs to be eliminated with exhaled air.

Analysis of the number of red blood cells in the body may be necessary for screening or to help diagnose or monitor diseases that affect the values of these cells.

The most common diseases in which the number of red blood cells is modified are:
  • Anemia
  • Infections
  • Lung diseases
  • Kidney diseases
  • Cancer
  • Dehydration
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Feline leukemia virus
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus

An increase or decrease in the number of red blood cells must be interpreted by the vet in accordance with other blood tests, such as hemoglobin, hematocrit, blood biochemistry, or rapid tests.

vet checking bengal cat
Image Credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock

What Are the Causes of Low Red Blood Cells in Cats?

The number of red blood cells in cats can decrease for several reasons, the most common being:
  • Poor metabolism
  • Interference with the formation or release of hemoglobin
  • Cessation of production or survival of red blood cells

Red blood cells are produced by the bone marrow and have a limited lifetime. In healthy cats, the number of this type of cell remains constant over time. If there are certain pathologies, the number of red blood cells can increase or decrease beyond the physiological reference limits. In cats, the reference range for the number of red blood cells is 6.9–10.1×106/µL.

If your cat’s number of red blood cells is too low (below the reference range), it means they have anemia.

This condition can be of two types:
  • Regenerative — This is when the bone marrow produces new red blood cells. This type of anemia can be caused by external or internal blood loss (due to tumors, parasites, ulcers, accidents, toxins, or infections).
  • Non-regenerative — This is when the bone marrow no longer produces new red blood cells. This type of anemia occurs in bone marrow disorders, chronic liver diseases, kidney diseases, poor diet, etc.

What Are the Clinical Signs of Anemia in Cats?

The most common clinical signs of anemia in cats include:
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Lack of appetite (your cat refuses food)
  • Lack of activity (your cat shows extreme fatigue, sleeps excessively, and stops playing)
  • Pale mucous membranes (your cat’s mouth, tongue, or nose has a whitish color)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive thirst
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Increased respiratory effort and collapse (in severe cases)
  • Collapse

If not treated quickly, anemia can lead to your cat’s death. Therefore, if you notice these clinical signs, take your cat to the vet immediately.

How Is Anemia in Cats Diagnosed and Treated?

To diagnose anemia, your veterinarian will draw blood from your cat to perform a CBC. This type of blood test will show your vet how many red blood cells, hemoglobin, white blood cells, and platelets your cat has. CBC can also reveal what kind of anemia your cat has (regenerative or non-regenerative).

Once the type of anemia is diagnosed, the vet may recommend additional tests (depending on your cat’s clinical signs) to identify the cause that led to the decrease in the number of red blood cells.

Depending on the severity of the anemia and the primary condition, the veterinarian may also recommend a blood transfusion, medication, a change in diet, surgery (in case of internal bleeding), or other treatments.

cat blood test
Image Credit: PRESSLAB, Shutterstock

How to Increase Red Blood Cells in Cats

The number of red blood cells can be increased by blood transfusion (in case of severe anemia), iron supplements, or iron-rich foods. Regarding iron supplements, always talk to your veterinarian because large doses can lead to poisoning.

Iron-rich foods are the best options when you want to increase your cat’s red blood cell count.

The most common iron-rich foods are:
  • Lean meat (turkey, chicken, and beef)
  • Liver (contains six times more iron than muscle meat)
  • Fish
  • Eggs (only rarely and cooked well)

In any case, it is recommended to talk to your veterinarian before adding new foods to your cat’s diet.

If you want to prevent anemia, you can do the following:
  • Vaccinate your cat according to the vaccination schedule.
  • Deworm your cat regularly.
  • Feed them a complete and balanced diet.
  • Take your cat to the vet for regular check-ups.


The decrease in the number of red blood cells can become problematic and lead to anemia. Signs of anemia in cats include lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss, extreme fatigue, and rapid heart rate and breathing. Your cat’s red blood cell count can be seen on a CBC, which is a routine blood test. If your cat has a low red blood cell count, it can be increased by blood transfusion (in severe situations), iron supplements, or iron-rich foods. Whether you choose supplements or foods rich in iron, talk to your veterinarian first. Iron in high concentrations can become toxic to cats.

Featured Image Credit: Krakenimages.com, Shutterstock

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