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What is Low White Blood Cell Count?

As part of the body’s immune system, white blood cells provide defense against disease. A drop in the total number of circulating white blood cells, called leukopenia, puts the dog at a higher risk of infection. As well as the overall count, blood tests will measure the number of each particular type of cell. Neutrophils are the most numerous white blood cell in dogs. They are the first antibodies to respond to an infection, travelling quickly to the site and binding to the foreign bacteria or virus that is causing the problem. Neutrophils are short-lived cells, generated in large numbers by the bone marrow. A low number of neutrophils, called neutropenia, is the most common reason for leukopenia in dogs. Many acute or long-lasting infections can cause neutrophil numbers to drop because the cells are destroyed faster than the bone marrow is able to compensate. Autoimmune responses, genetic disorders found in some breeds, cancer, and drug toxicity can also cause neutropenia. With disorders that affect the bone marrow, the condition may be combined with low levels or red blood cells and platelets as well, since the stem cells in the bone marrow may be unable to generate any type of blood cell. While leukopenia is not a definitive diagnosis, analyzing the numbers and different types of blood cells that are present will help the veterinarian identify your dog’s disease.

A drop in the total number of circulating white blood cells, called leukopenia, makes a dog more susceptible to any type of infection. Neutropenia, low numbers of the white blood cells called neutrophils, is the most common type of leukopenia in dogs. This disorder is usually the result of an underlying cause, such as infection, cancer, or a genetic abnormality.

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Symptoms of Low White Blood Cell Count in Dogs

The most common sign of a low white blood cell count in dogs is an inability to fight off infections. Take your dog to the veterinarian if you notice signs of persistent or recurring infection.

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Bleeding
  • Pale coat and nose

Depending on the primary cause, neutropenia could be present with many different types of symptoms.

Types

Blood test results can often show reduced numbers among different types of white blood cells.

  • Leukopenia – drop in the total number of white blood cells, usually due to neutropenia
  • Neutropenia – low numbers of neutrophils associated with infection, autoimmune response and genetic disorders
  • Pancytopenia – an extreme form of neutropenia with a simultaneous reduction in red blood cells and platelets; often associated with bone marrow dysfunction or failure
  • Lymphopenia – low numbers of lymphocytes often associated a stress response that causes high levels of cortisol; doesn’t usually cause leukopenia unless neutropenia is also present
  • Eosinopenia –also indicates a stress response
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Causes of Low White Blood Cell Count in Dogs

Many disorders can cause white blood cell numbers to drop in dogs.

Prolonged or overwhelming infection

  • Canine Parvovirus
  • Infectious hepatitis
  • Coronavirus

Cancers of the bone marrow

Sepsis

Drugs

  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Some antibiotics (trimethoprim sulfamethoxazole)
  • Dipyrone (fever medication)
  • Estrogen replacement therapy

Autoimmune diseases

Ehrlichia

 (infection by a tick-borne parasite)

Genetic disorders

  • Grey collies (cyclic hematopoiesis or canine cyclic neutropenia)
  • Giant Schnauzers (malabsorption of vitamin B)
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Diagnosis of Low White Blood Cell Count in Dogs

White blood cell counts in dogs are measured using a leukogram. In most cases, this will be part of a complete blood cell count (CBC) that also measures red blood cells and platelets. Some abnormal leukogram results include leukopenia and neutropenia. 

An Inflammatory Response or left shift means there are high numbers of immature neutrophils caused by increased bone marrow production. If this corresponds with neutropenia, it is called a degenerative left shift. It suggests either a very recent infection, or a severe systemic disease that is destroying neutrophils faster than bone marrow generation. Your dog’s other symptoms and the degree of neutropenia may further help to indicate the cause. Very low neutrophil numbers are usually associated with canine parvovirus, while other infections will only have mildly depleted levels. Few or mild symptoms of infection could indicate an autoimmune disorder that is destroying neutrophils in the blood.

Neutropenia can occur cyclically, as with the genetic disease of gray collies. This diagnosis will depend on your dog’s breed and age, since most collies with this condition do not survive past six months. Neutrophil numbers drop in approximately 12 day cycles.

If there are few immature cells present, this could indicate a problem with the bone marrow, such as cancer, an auto-immune disorder that affects neutrophil stem cells, or drug toxicity. Pancytopenia, a decrease in all types of blood cells, will usually develop as the disease progresses, so this may show up on a CBC. Ehrlichia, a parasite infection passed through ticks, can present similar symptoms so the veterinarian will test for this as well.

Other information about your dog can help the veterinarian make an accurate diagnosis, including age and breed, as well as past and present medications. Vaccinations and potential exposure to infection are also relevant. The veterinarian will perform a full physical examination and take urine and possibly feces samples to thoroughly evaluate your dog’s health.

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Treatment of Low White Blood Cell Count in Dogs

Treatment will depend on the cause of neutropenia. Dogs with bacterial infections will be given antibiotics. This will help to support the immune system which is weakened with any type of leukopenia, whether bacterial infection is the primary cause or not. Fluids, electrolytes, and other supportive treatment may be necessary for dogs with very severe infections.

Dogs with immune-mediated neutropenia will respond to immune suppressants, so prednisone or another steroid may be given if the veterinarian does not believe that infection is the primary cause. Immune suppressants should not be given to dogs with severe infections as this will limit the body’s natural disease fighting response.

Cancerous conditions will be treated with chemotherapy. Unfortunately, this treatment will often further deplete your dog’s white blood cell count. Antibiotics will likely be given at the same time to support your dog’s immune system.

Gray Collies with inherited neutropenia will rarely survive into adulthood as there is no treatment except to manage bacterial infection as much as possible. A bone marrow transplant could cure the condition, but this is a costly and risky procedure that is rarely done in dogs.

If the problem is due to another drug, the veterinarian will try to eliminate this drug or reduce the dosage.

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Recovery of Low White Blood Cell Count in Dogs

Leukopenia can be the sign of many serious conditions that require lifelong management. Blood cancers may respond to chemotherapy, but full recovery is unlikely. Many other potential causes could require long-term medication and your dog will need to be monitored carefully for side effects or toxicity. If infection is the primary cause, your dog may make a full recovery, as long as he survives the initial disease. The prognosis will depend on the diagnosis of a veterinarian.

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Low White Blood Cell Count Average Cost

From 48 quotes ranging from $500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$2,000

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Low White Blood Cell Count Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Jack Russell Terrier

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Nine Years

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Unknown severity

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My dog is being treated for proteinuria (3+) since August 2019. Enalapril 2.5 mg, 1.5 tabs 2x daily. She is on a renal friendly low fat diet (very high quality - veterinary prepared). Recent lab results: UPC-R is 1.9 (1.3 in 5/20). Urine creatinine is 145.8 and Urine protein is 283.9 (189.5 in 5/20). WBC (4.7 down from 6.6 in 8/19) and lymphocytes (.705 down from 1.221 in 8/19) were low. The vet said results looked good except urine protein was higher but I am concerned about low WBC and lymphocytes. He did not recommend any changes in diet or medication.

Aug. 15, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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Hello, there are many reasons that they could be low. If she is acting normally I would think that this just may be a one-time thing. There are other values on the bloodwork that would show if her body is making blood cells as she should be. Bloodwork is a snapshot of your dog's health at that time and the values are constantly changing. If it continues to stay low over a few months then I would worry. It would not be a bad idea to have her CBC repeated a few weeks after the last one just to see where her blood levels are at.

Aug. 16, 2020

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Boston Terrier

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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Started 1 Day After Swimming N Lake. Lethargic, Not Eating Or Drinking. Went To Emergency Clinic. Wbc1.7. Stayed For 24 Hours For Hydration Started On Doxycycline Liver Labs Good. Perked Up On Day 3 Started Eating With Some Coaxing. Had Repeat Labs Da 6. In Liver Failure. Our Fr Leptospirosis Is Negative.

Help me figure out what it could be

Aug. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question, I am sorry that is happening to your dog. Without more information, it is difficult for me to say what might be happening, but some lakes have very toxic algae that can cause liver failure in dogs. I hope that they are able to help your dog recover and that they fell better soon.

Aug. 8, 2020

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Maltese Mix

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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Low White Cell Count

Hello, my vet is advising for dog to remain in urgent care due to low white blood cell count. I don't want to leave her alone the whole weekend. what can I do at home to increase her blood count.

July 31, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to increase her white blood cell count. The idea behind treatment is that your veterinarian is treating the disease so that her white blood cell count low rise on its own. If your veterinarian is advising that she stay in Urgent Care, it may be a really bad idea to take her home at this point. That is something that you can discuss further with your veterinarian, however. I hope that she is okay.

July 31, 2020

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Chihuahua

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Nine Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Fatigue Low Wbc

My dog is very weak and has a low WBC. As of yet she has no known infections. And is currently on a course of antibiotics Just in case. She gets better and then about once a week she gets weak and lethargic. I have scheduled an ultra sound with my vet. But I am worried about what it could possibly be. Could she have an unknown cancer or could this be something else? Also the vet mentioned that her blood was black ? What does this mean?

July 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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Hello I'm sorry that your pet is not doing well. If your veterinarian is recommending an abdominal ultrasound, he or she may want to see if your pet has an infection or something going on her with her vital organs. I'm not sure what your vet meant that her blood was black. I know that when dogs are dehydrated their blood becomes darker in color. Good luck.

July 28, 2020

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Hope

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Jack Rusell Mix

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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None

My dog was diagnosed with epilepsy last year. Since then, he has been on phenobarbital 32.4mg. Since he see a holistic veterinarian, he is also taking Chinese herbs and CBD oil. He has been seizure free for a year and his CBC test have always been normal. However, the vet noticed a drop on white blood cells in his blood work yesterday. She seems to think we should take him of the phenobarbital since this could be the cause...but I'm hesitant...I don't want his seizures to come back and I don't think we should jump to that conclusion without doing more research. Any thoughts?

July 26, 2018

Hope's Owner

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Neutropenia (neutrophils are a particular type of white blood cell) is a possible side effect of long term phenobarbital use, if the decrease is white blood cell count is concerningly low then it would be a good idea to wean Hope off the phenobarbital to see how she does since it has been a year since her last seizure. The extract below covers this in the extract. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/175/10/247

July 27, 2018

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Fisher

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French Bulldog

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2 Years

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

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Fever
Loss Of Appetite
Runny Nose
Low Platelets
Sores On Stomach
Excessive Eye Watering
Low Wbc
Low Rbc

Our 2.5-year-old French Bulldog spent two days in the ER. He came down with a fever (104+) on Sunday evening, runny nose, very watery/runny eyes and lack of interest in food. We visited the vet on Monday; blood work came back on Tuesday showing that his white blood cell count was dangerously low; she advised a visit to the ER. The ER kept him overnight, did more blood work and found that his platelets were dangerously low (30) and his red blood cell count was also dropping. We visited him that night and took his favorite foods—he was alert with only a mild fever and eagerly ate. He had been on a steroid while in the ER, IV fluids and antibiotics. The next day, his platelets had increased to 70 and he had improved enough to be sent home with meds. (doxycycline and clavamox) Today (two days home) he seems close to his normal self. Trip to the vet today: tick disease panel came back negative and the vet has not found anything in the blood work that might have caused this. We are anxiously waiting for Monday to see if his platelet and white blood cell counts have improved. The vet has not ruled out an infection (including tick disease) of some sort and has said it could be an immune disorder or bone marrow issue. Are there tick diseases that don't show up on a tick panel? What kinds of immune disorders might cause these symptoms?

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Princeton

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Shepherd

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13 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Neutropenia

Just want to know whether Neupogen(filgastrim) can be given to dogs who develop neutropenia while on chemotherapy. If so, what is the usual dose? Our dog has been recently diagnosed with Transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder. We are going for an initial evaluation at the University of Florida tomorrow to see what our options are. I'm just trying to anticipate side effects and possible solutions.

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Archie

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English Setter

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5 Years

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Critical severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Loss Of Appetite
Ulcers

Our 5 1/2 year old male English Setter has always been healthy and happy until sudden lethargy and loss of appetite. After 3 days, saw blood in urine and immediately took him to an emergency vet hospital. Xrays of abdomen and chest were clear, urine analysis and most blood work were good too, and no fever. However, low neutrophil count and most worrisome series of ulcers all over his penis --around 15 small white ulcerations/cavities, which is what led to the bloody discharge. He hasn't traveled or been to a dog park, etc. but is in a high degree of pain. Waiting for results of cytology and taking pain meds and antibiotic. We're worried and perplexed how he could suddenly become so ill. After a day of IV fluids and meds, he's looking much better and is eating again.

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Brutus

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coon/mountan ker mix

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3 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Pain
Eye Bulging
Eye Clouding
Eye Redness
Lethargy
Wbc Low

My 3-year-old coon/mountain ker mix had an eye issue, inflammed and red. Took him to vet 3 times. Tried anti-inflammatory, steroids and drops. After about 6 weeks of back and forth and the eye seeming to get better, it got extremely worse overnight. Took him to the ER where there is also an opthalmologist who did a consult. Course of treatment was broad spectrum antibiotics, pain med and ointment. Did blood work and showed his WBC was extremely low (never told count) as well as platletes low. Temp was 105. Also did an aspiration of the area, which cytology report showed inconclusive results. Only to say there was some infection present. Was able to take him home. A few hours later, would not eat, would not drink, walking like an arthritic dog (previous day was running around, eating and drinking completley fine). Ended up back at ER to stay for 2 nights. IV broad spectrum antibiotics, continuous IV pain meds, temp was 106. Two days of this and WBC was still extremely low. Did Head CT with contrast which showed cellulitis of all soft tissue surrounding eye. Wanted to remove eye. We were on board with this until dr. said they did not feel it was contained only to the eye, thought it was systemic (possibly something wrong with bone marrow) and didn't think removing the eye would resolve the issue (this was now almost 4 full days on IV antibiotics and still no increase in WBC). We unfortunatly made the decision to put him to sleep, which the vet supported. We asked about doing necropsy to determine exactly what had happened, but they don't do them.

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Berkeley

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Pug-Chinese Mixed

dog-age-icon

9 Years

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Critical severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Loss Of Balance
Low Platelet Levels
Low Red/White Blood Count

Our ~9 yr old Pug/Chinese Mixed baby has been exhibiting signs of lethargy,no appetite,white gums and poor balance, and incontinence. Took the the general house vet. They took blood sample. Results showed low levels of white/red BC and low platelet levels. They prescribed prednisone and 2 anti-biotics, but were concerned about more serious issues. I decided to take the drug therapy for 3 days. She showed signs of more energy, began eating again, but randomly lost her motor skills and displayed somewhat of a seizure. We took her to the specialist immediately. She has been stabilized but the concern that she may not make it is on my mind every minute. They are doing numerous scans/tests/ to determine exactly what it is going on, but I fear the worst.

Low White Blood Cell Count Average Cost

From 48 quotes ranging from $500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$2,000

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