Canine anemia is not particularly difficult to diagnose. Initially, the veterinarian will draw blood for a complete blood count (CBC), a packed cell volume (PCV) and a serum biochemistry panel, and probably will perform an analysis of the dog’s urine as well. She also will evaluate a blood smear under the microscope to look closely at the structure of the red blood cells. A separate test is available to detect the presence of Ehrlicia canis, which is a blood-borne parasite in dogs. Another early test may be a coagulation panel and a buccal mucosal bleeding time test, to assess the clotting ability of the dog’s blood. A fecal analysis can be done to check for what is called occult blood loss, which is blood loss through the intestines that is not visibly detectable otherwise.
The initial data base described above will disclose red blood cell abnormalities in either quantity, quality or both if anemia is present. However, these tests will not necessarily identify the underlying cause of the problem. Advanced diagnostic tests include bone marrow aspiration and core bone marrow biopsy, if a problem with RBC production is suspected. These tests are performed under sedation or general anesthesia. The veterinarian may also take a sample of free fluid in the abdomen by a process called abdominocentesis. This involves placing a needle through the skin into the abdomen and drawing off a sample of any fluid that may be present. This test can reveal blood in the abdomen (called hemoabdomen) which may be secondary to trauma, bleeding disorders, disorders of the spleen or surgical suture failure. Other diagnostic tools include abdominal radiographs (x-rays), abdominal ultrasound and endoscopy (use of a tiny scope and camera to visualize the inside of the abdomen; useful to identify tumors, ulcers and the like). Specific tests are available to identify the presence of Mycoplasma and Babesia in the blood, and there are DNA tests to look for PK/PFK deficiencies that are seen in certain breeds. Finally chest films (thoracic radiographs) may be appropriate if cancer (neoplasia) is suspected.
Your veterinarian is best suited to determining which diagnostic tools should be used in any given case of suspected anemia. The causes of anemia are so variable that each dog must be assessed physically and in person before a diagnostic plan realistically can be developed.