Tom had been seen exactly one month prior for his routine senior physical exam where he was given a clean bill of health. At this time, Tom also undertook his regularly scheduled senior health screen - a blood test to ensure his liver, kidneys, thyroid, red and white blood cells, and platelets were functioning normally where he passed his tests with flying colours. His owner had noted that in the weeks after his health visit that Tom was acting differently, he was not engaging his owner as per normal and was sleeping more and becoming more restless. The morning he presented to the clinic, his owner had noticed him howling and flopping on the ground. On physical examination, the vet at the time found no abnormalities. Given his history, the vet was concerned regarding his neurological function at the time but his neurological exam was also unrewarding.
Even though his bloods had been tested the month before, the vet recommended repeating this test. It was only then that it was found that Tom was anaemic, meaning that he had low red blood cells. Our red blood cells are vital for carrying oxygen around the body and reduced oxygen-carrying capacity can lead to a number of signs including lethargy, changes in behaviour and in some severe cases respiratory distress.
But where was the blood going? There were no signs of haemorrhage externally so a number of tests were run to see if there was bleeding internally. His chest x-rays did not show signs of bleeding in the chest and abdominal ultrasound showed an enlarged spleen but no evidence of bleeding. His enlarged spleen, however, did hint towards another disease process, that his red blood cells were being destroyed by his own immune system. Samples of the blood were sent to the lab to confirm this, a few days later, when they returned, Tom was started on treatment for Mycoplasma.
Mycoplasma is a small bacteria that parasites red blood cells. These bacteria are highlighted by the body’s defence system as abnormal and our white blood cells seek to rid the body of these bacteria, in doing so also destroying the red blood cells. This disease can be transmitted by fleas and ticks and through the transmission of fluids between two animals, say through cat fights/bites, which is suspected in Tom’s case. Clinical signs of this disease can be as subtle as weakness and lethargy with severe cases leading to changes in breathing and heart rate and potential collapse.