Anaemia is a term employed to denote a condition of the blood in which there is a deficiency of iron, an element essential to the formation of red blood cells, deficiency in which results in poverty, weakness, and general malaise.
The causes of angemia are numerous. Chief among them may be mentioned insufficient or improper food, close confinement, impure air, specific disease, chronic discharges, hemorrhage, the action of lead and other deleterious agents in the food or water, and parasitism. In the case of young horses at grass, the first and last named are perhaps the more frequent, while stabled animals suffer greater risks from bad hygienic conditions. The anaemic state may be very gradually acquired where bad hygienic conditions exist, or it may follow more quickly upon diarrhoea, influenza in any of its many forms, glanders, and parturient troubles in the mare, and the multiplication of parasites within the body.
There is pallor of the membranes lining the eyelids and the nasal cavities; the tongue has a limp or soft feeling not imparted to the hand in a healthy animal, and conveys an impression of coldness to the touch; emaciation and debility coexist with a harsh, dry skin, and dropsical swellings appear from time to time, especially in colts at the end of the winter, when the fare has been poor and the season cold and wet. Low, marshy, waterdogged land is especially conducive to anaemia in young animals. Persistent or pernicious anaemia results in great weakness, loss of spirits evinced by drooping head and listlessness, nervous irritability and palpitation of the heart when suddenly disturbed, a want of coordination of the voluntary muscles, and, in mares or fillies, suppression or absence of the oestrual periods are sometimes induced, and a peculiar murmur or ripple is heard near the region of the heart.
The pulse is irregular, feeble, and intermittent, and sudden attacks of palpitation of the heart come on now and again, when its contractions may be heard at a considerable distance.
As the heart grows weak, and nervous prostration increases, respiration becomes shallow, digestion is impaired, and the desire for exercise diminishes. Abdominal pains, of the nature of mild attacks of colic, and a distended or tympanitic abdomen are not unfrequently noted.
Since the causes are so many and varied, they should be carefully investigated before a remedy is prescribed. It would be useless, for instance, to rely solely upon a blood restorative if the maintenance of a host of parasites within were the cause. In colts at grass the little worm Strongylus tetracanthus infests the bowels in some seasons to such an extent as to destroy the life of its victims without for a time producing other marked symptoms than those of anaemia. Anthelmintics combined with tonic remedies will here be indicated. (See Parasites.)
The anaemia which follows upon specific diseases, such as influenza, strangles, etc, will be combated by mineral and vegetable tonics and a diet at once nutritive and easy of digestion. In the case of colts which have suffered from the inclemency of the winter, and pasture of inferior quality, a careful process of building up of the system is advised, and it has to be borne in mind that animals in this state must not be too hastily supplied with a full ration of nutritious diet, because the power of digestion and assimilation has suffered in common with all the other functions of the body. At first milk and then gruels should be given in conjunction with a moderate allowance of more solid food. Crushed linseed and malt flour are valuable adjuncts to the food allowance at this period, and should be given in small but frequent portions.
A good deal may be clone by supplying medicines from both the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, bitter tonics, as quinine, gentian, calumba, and chamomile, the sulphates of iron and copper. As iron is the element most wanting in the blood of the anaemic, and necessary to rebuild the red corpuscles, it enjoys a reputation as being almost a specific for this form of the malady. In the case of horses it has to be given with caution, as, with the extremely debilitated, it is too irritating and astringent to be borne in full closes. For the very weak and emaciated the saccharated carbonate or the ammonio-citrate is preferable to the more commonly employed sulphate.