Polycythemia in Dogs

raised red blood cell count in dog

Polycythemia is a rather major blood condition, characterized as an unusual increase in the amount of red cell in the circulatory system. It requires a boost in jam-packed cell volume (PCV), hemoglobin concentration (the red pigment of the blood cell), and in red cell (RBC) count, above the referral intervals, due to a relative, short-term, or absolute boost in the number of circulating red cell.

Definition of Polycythemia in Dogs

Polycythemia is classified as relative, transient, or outright. Relative polycythemia develops when a decrease in plasma volume, normally brought on by dehydration, produces a relative increase in flowing RBCs. Short-term polycythemia is triggered by splenic contraction, which injects concentrated RBCs into the blood circulation in a temporary reaction to epinephrine, the hormonal agent that responds to stress, anger, and worry. Absolute polycythemia is characterized by an absolute boost in the circulating RBC mass, as a result of an increase in bone marrow production.

Outright polycythemia, represented by increased RBCs in the bone marrow, can be primary or secondary to an increase in the production of EPO. Main outright (called polycythemia rubra vera) is a myeloproliferative disorder identified by the extreme, uncontrolled production of RBCs in the bone marrow. Secondary outright polycythemia is triggered by a physiologically proper release of EPO resulting from chronic hypoxemia (lack of oxygen), or by improper and extreme production of EPO or EPO-like compound in an animal with regular blood oxygen levels.

The condition affects both dogs and cats. If you want to find out more about how this disease impacts cats, please check out this page in the PetMD health library.

Symptoms and Types



  • Lack of energy
  • Low exercise tolerance
  • Dark-red, or bluish gums
  • Sneezing
  • Nosebleeds
  • Bigger abdomen

Causes of High Red Blood Cell Count in Dog


  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Reduced water consumption
  • Kidney disease
  • Hyperventilation


  • Excitement
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Restraint

Primary absolute

  • Rare myeloproliferative disorder( bone marrow disorder).

Secondary absolute

  • Not enough oxygen in the blood (hypoxemia).
    • Long-term lung disease.
    • Heart disease.
    • High elevation.
    • Impairment of blood supply to the kidneys.
  • Inappropriate EPO secretion.
    • Kidney cyst.
    • Swelling of a kidney due to urine being backed-up.
    • Overactive adrenal gland.
    • Overactive thyroid gland.
    • Tumor of the adrenal gland.
    • Cancer.


Your vet will perform a total physical exam on your dog, including a chemical blood profile, a total blood count, a urinalysis, and an electrolyte panel. Your vet will also measure oxygen levels in the blood. Hormone assays (using blood samples to evaluate hormonal agents) can also be used for measuring EPO levels. Radiograph and ultrasound images are also useful for taking a look at the heart, kidneys, and lungs for underlying diseases that might be causing polycythemia.

You will have to offer a comprehensive history of your dog’s health, including a background history of symptoms, and possible incidents that may have precipitated this condition. The history you offer might offer your vet ideas regarding which organs are causing secondary disease symptoms.


For this condition, your dog needs to be hospitalized. Your veterinarian will decide, based on the underlying cause of the polycythemia, whether your dog needs to have some of the excess red cell eliminated by opening a vein – called a phlebotomy, or “letting” – and whether the excess has been triggered by low levels of oxygen in the blood, which would require some quantity of oxygen therapy. Your dog might likewise need to be treated with fluid therapy, or with medication if there is a medical diagnosis of a blood marrow condition (myeloproliferative/polycythemia vera).

Living and Management.

Your veterinarian will arrange follow-up visits with your dog as necessary to guarantee a typical jam-packed cell volume, and to follow progress.


Reyus Mammadli
Having engineering and medical education, in recent years actively engaged in the study of the development, reproduction of domestic animals. Special attention is paid to the treatment and prevention of diseases of Pets.
Pet Health
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  1. James

    My boss’s Spaniel had this disease. I was sorry to see the dog! It’s good that she managed to help after all. A year has passed since her illness and she feels well.