Friday, 15 January 2016

All About ... Anaemia.

What is Anaemia.

Anaemia means the horse has a low level of haemoglobin in the blood.  This is the pigment which carries the oxygen to the tissues around the body.  This may be because there is a decrease in the number Red Blood Cells (RBC’s) in the blood (see my Circulatory System blog)  or a low level of haemoglobin, or both.  As a result of this it is likely that there will not be enough oxygen getting to key areas of the horse.  


These can vary slightly depending on the cause of the anaemia.

  • Pale gums, mucous membranes and the inside of the eyelids 
  • Weakness 
  • Dull coat 
  • Weight loss 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Poor performance 
  • Reduced stamina 
  • Restlessness 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Fever 
  • Urine may be a darker colour if red blood cells are being destroyed.


Anaemia has a number of different causes and these causes can affect the signs too. 
  • It may be due to an infection or illness eg: Equine Infectious Anaemia. 
  • Anaemia can be caused by bleeding  from a wound but it may also be internal bleeding following a serious fall or accident.  This will of course mean there is a severe loss of blood. 
  • It can be caused by an excessive worm burden (see my blog about worms). 
  • Nutritional deficiency is another cause of anaemia but your vet will be best placed to advise on this following the blood test. 
  • Stress can also cause anaemia.  Sometimes seen in horses that are in hard training and performing regularly at a high level. This is because the continual hard work can lead to stress which can affect the production of RBC’s.

One type of worms.


Diagnosing anaemia is done with a blood test by a vet.  Equine Infections Anaemia is a notifiable disease!

This is a copy of Chesney's blood test from last winter - see his low RBC count!


Appropriate treatment will be dependent on the cause of the anaemia.
  • If the cause is external bleeding then the wound should be treated immediately (see my blog). 
  • If the cause is an infection or illness then again a vet will need to treat this. 
  • If worms are causing the anaemia then the vet will advise a worming schedule to tackle the issue – this may include egg counts. 
  • Anaemia resulting from a nutritional deficiency will mean giving the horse a dietary supplement initially, followed by a further blood test to check for improvements.  The diet will need to be assessed to identify the reasons for the deficiency so the anaemia can be prevented in the future.  
  • Stress caused anaemia will again need a vet’s input. However, horses in hard work are likely to need a well balanced supplement to support them .


Anaemia from blood loss is obviously difficult to prevent, no easier than preventing your horse from injuring himself!  However, ensuring your horse has a well balanced diet appropriate to his work load and with a well balanced supplement if necessary will help reduce the likelihood of anaemia. A consistent egg count and worming programme should prevent an excessive worm burden causing anaemia.  Equine Infectious Anaemia is spread by large horse flies so having good Yard Hygiene and adhering to your yard's biosecurity measures eg: isolation boxes etcetera are important. 

Anaemia is unusual in horses and you should never diagnose yourself without a blood test.  Your vet will be able to help you identify the cause and therefore the treatment and future prevention!

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Until next time!

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