Polycythemia In Cats: What Should You Know About It?


Regarded as an irregular increase in the number of red blood cells in the circulatory system, the polycythemia is a fairly serious blood condition. Even more specifically, this entails a certain increase in PCV or packed cell volume, hemoglobin concentration, as well as in red blood cell count, beyond the position intervals, because of a transient, absolute, or relative increase in a number of be sociable red blood cells. In this article we will discuss some more interesting facts about polycythemia in cats including the cause, symptoms, prognosis and treatment. Read on to learn about these and more!

What is Polycythemia in Cats?

In medical terms, the overproduction of red blood cells in cats is known as polycythemia. In this particular condition, the blood suddenly becomes viscous and thick because of the saturation of the red blood cells in the plasma. The thickened blood doesn’t easily flow via the smaller capillaries and veins in the body, thus resulting in the poor delivery of oxygen to the tissues. If you leave this without any diagnosis and treatment, polycythemia may lead to austere coronary signs, even heart failure.

In addition, polycythemia is categorized as transient, absolute, or relative. The transient polycythemia is due to splenic contraction that injects concentrated red blood cells through the circulation in a brief reaction to epinephrine –a hormone that reacts to anger, fear, and stress. On the other hand, the absolute polycythemia is characterized by absolute increase in the red blood cell mass circulating, as an outcome of a certain increase in the production of bone marrow. The relative polycythemia may develop when a reduction in the plasma volume, commonly due to dehydration, may produce a fair increase in the red blood cells circulating.

Moreover, the function of the red blood cells, as we know, is to deliver oxygen into the tissues of the body. The red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow of the cat when the erythropoietin, signals that there is too few oxygen levels in the blood. This is so common for cats to have very few red blood cells, thus resulting in anemia.


Polycythemia vera or real polycythemia, may arise impulsively in cats. Further, she cause of this main form of polycythemia in cats isn’t understood well, even up to this moment.

Additionally, polycythemia may also come secondary to a prior condition, like the following:

  • Abnormal circulation
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Severe lung disease
  • Bone marrow cancer
  • Kidney tumors
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Dehydration

If none of the aforementioned secondary conditions is present, it’s possible that the cause of the condition is polycythemia vera.


Due to the fact that the red blood cells influence all the systems of the body of a cat, the symptoms of polycythemia may become seemingly noticeable and somewhat unrelated symptoms. The symptoms of polycythemia include the following:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Blindness
  • Weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Excessive urination and thirst
  • Sluggishness and lethargy

The symptoms of polycythemia in cats may progress in a gradual manner and it might be hard to notice for several months. It is so important that you consult a vet any given time the cat is showing some unexplained behavioral or physical changes.


The vet may likely to start the diagnostic process with a collection of complete medical history, as well as a complete physical examination, in order to understand better the symptoms of the cat. The examination of the vet may include the mucus membrane that might appear red. Also, the vet may palpate the torso of the cat, in order to estimate the capillary refill time, or the time it takes for the blood to fill the capillaries.

Furthermore, the vet may also collect blood and urine samples from the cat. Exam of the blood sample may show increased red blood cells, hemoglobin levels, and packed cell volume in cats with excessive red blood cell production. Also, the urine sample is commonly used in order to ascertain whether the polycythemia has started to affect the other organ systems or in ruling out some other diagnoses.

Treatment for Polycythemia

The treatment for polycythemia in cats may progress in two stages. The first one, red blood cells may be removed directly from the bloodstream of the cat to treat the acute polycythemia. The second one, the cause of the condition seen by the vet might be addressed, or in an instance of polycythemia vera, preventive treatment might be recommended.

In addition, phlebotomy or the removal of the blood from the body may be done. Vets may perform this process, replace any lost fluid, in order to prevent hypotension or dehydration –to improve the circulation and improve the blood. Further, contingent to the blood viscosity, 5-20 milliliters of blood may be removed for every kilogram of the weight of the cat.

Also, the PCV level of the cat is also monitored all throughout the process of determining when the goal RBC density has already been reached, commonly below 50% of the whole blood. Further, iron supplements might be administered as well for home utilization, in order to prevent anemia.


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