Leukopenia in Dogs

Leukopenia in Dogs

Health & Safety

Leukopenia is a condition sees their white blood cells falling far too low. As a result of having too few of them in their blood stream, a dog is far more at risk of developing some kind of infection and it leaves open to catching many diseases too. The most common form of leukopenia seen in dogs is neutropenia which describes how they have low levels of antibodies in their systems which are known as neutrophils.

The Causes

Dogs typically develop the condition due the fact they are suffering from some sort of underlying health issue and this could include the following:

  • Cancer
  • Infection
  • A genetic defect or abnormality

The body needs the correct levels of white blood cells in the system because they are a vital part of the immune system. White blood cells help fight off diseases and infections and when levels drop too low it puts dogs more at risk of becoming ill. The most numerous white blood cells in a dog's blood stream as previously mentioned, are called neutrophils and these are the first of the antibodies that respond to any sort of infection or foreign body that enters and starts attacking a dog's system. However, neutrophils don't survive for very long and need to be produced in large numbers which happens in a dog's bone marrow. When levels drop too low, they are not able to do their job properly.

The problems start when neutrophils die off faster than they can be produced in a dog's bone marrow. However, other reasons why a dog might have too few white blood cells in their blood streams could include because they are suffering from the following conditions:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Genetic disorders
  • Bone marrow disorders
  • Cancer
  • A reaction to certain medication and drugs
  • Viral infections
  • Coronavirus infections
  • Infectious canine hepatitis
  • Ehrlichia infection
  • Cyclic haematopoiesis which is a condition that affects grey coloured Collies

Symptoms Associated with the Condition

When dogs suffer from leukopenia, there are several symptoms to watch out for which could include the following:

  • An inability to fight off any kind of infection
  • Persistent, recurring infections
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Lethargy
  • Pale gums and other mucous tissues
  • A pale nose and sometimes paler coat colour

Diagnosing the Problem

A vet would ideally need to know a dog's full medical history and how any signs of there being something wrong first manifested themselves. The vet would want to carry out several blood tests so they can measure blood cell levels and establish if a dog has too few white blood cells in their blood streams. The sort of tests a vet would typically recommend carrying out which would help confirm a diagnosis could include the following:

  • A complete blood chemistry profile
  • A complete blood count
  • A urinalysis

Treatment Options

The kind of treatment a vet might recommend largely depends on the underlying cause of a dog's condition. Should it be found that a dog is suffering some kind of bacterial infection, the vet would typically prescribe a course of antibiotics and it's important for the course to be completed for the treatment to be effective. Antibiotics would also help support a dog's immune system which is often weakened when they suffer from leukopenia.

A dog might also need to be hospitalised if their condition is deemed severe which means they can be given fluids and electrolytes which would help maintain correct levels until a dog can do so on their own. Dogs suffering from an immune-mediated form of the disorder would need to be given immune suppressants to prevent their own systems from causing further damage by attacking itself. When the condition is due to a dog having developed some form of cancer, a vet would typically recommend they be seen by a veterinary oncologist who would assess their condition before recommending any form of treatment which might include chemotherapy. The downside to chemo is that a dog's white blood cells would be depleted even more when given this form of treatment.

Breeds Most at Risk

Studies have established that certain breeds and in particular grey coated Collies, are more at risk of developing neutropenia and that sadly, most dog succumb to the systems because at present there is no treatment available for dogs suffering from the condition. It is also worth noting that the Greyhound, Belgian Tervurenas well as other sighthounds tend to have less white blood cells in their blood streams and that therefore, they may not be suffering from leukopenia.

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