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Reasons for High White Blood Cell Count in Dogs

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Reasons for High White Blood Cell Count in Dogs

If you are looking for reasons of high white blood cell count in dogs, most likely your dog's blood work has numbers that were off the charts. One of the most common blood tests run in dogs is a complete blood count, also known as a full blood count. This blood count mainly focuses on determining the number and types of blood cells present in the blood. The cells that are looked at in a complete blood count are red blood cells and white blood cells. Abnormal counts of any of these cells may be therefore indicative of various conditions. While as a dog owner, you can have a rough idea as to what may cause a high white blood cell count in dogs, your vet, of course, is best equipped to do.

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Types of White Blood Cells

If you want to understand your dog's blood test, you will first have to understand the many different types of white blood cells in dogs and their functions.

Your dog's white blood cells (WBC’s), often referred to as leukocytes, act as a brave company of soldiers whose main goal is to defend your dog's body from potential enemies such as viruses, bacteria or fungi.

While there are several types of leukocytes, a total white blood cell count, as its name implies, shows the total of all types of white blood cells. The normal numbers of white blood cells in a dog may range between 6,000 and 17,000 per microliter.

Presence of Infection

Generally a high number of leukocytes in your dogs may be indicative of your dog fighting an infection. When your dog's body detects the presence of enemies, it gathers all the troops up so that their huge numbers heighten the chances for defeating the enemy.

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Affected dogs often display a fever greater than 103 degrees, act lethargic and lose their appetite. If the dog's symptoms point to an infection the vet will likely prescribe a round of antibiotics. However, infections aren't the only cause for high white blood cell counts in dogs and not all infections cause the levels to become higher, points out veterinarian Dr. John.

A Sign of Cancer

Sadly, in some cases elevated white blood cell counts may be indicative of cancer. Generally, very high counts are seen in dogs with cancer (over 100,000) and these dogs are often acting lethargic, not eating well and losing weight.

An ultrasound can be helpful in detecting the presence of tumors if x-rays have failed. Also, any complete blood count test with very elevated values is best sent out to a laboratory with a pathologist reviewing it. A consultation with a veterinary internist may be helpful for complicated cases.

Other Possible Causes

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Going to the vet can be particularly stressful for some dogs and having blood drawn certainly adds to the stress. In some cases, stressed dogs at the vet may end up with higher than normal white blood cells values, explains veterinarian Dr. Marie.

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This can be the case with a dogs who is generally feeling well, with no fever and a normal appetite. To rule stress out, an option may be to have a mobile vet or a veterinary technician swing by and collect a blood sample to see if the levels still stay elevated despite being at home, in a more tranquil environment.

Other possible causes for elevated white blood count in dogs includes tick disease, pancreatitis, and some autoimmune disorders. More details can be obtained by looking at exactly what types of white blood cells are elevated through a differential blood test.

Breaking Things Down

A differential white blood cell count may further go into depth and determine exactly what types of white blood cells are elevated. There are indeed several types of white blood cells in dogs: neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, lymphocytes and monocytes. A breakdown of these different types of white blood cells can further aid in determining the cause for high white blood cell counts in dogs by going into more detailed specifics regarding the various types of diseases process.

Elevated Eosinophils in Dogs

An elevated number of eosinophils can be indicative of an allergy or the presence of parasites such as heartworms or hookworms, explains, veterinarian Dr. Smith. Eosinophils are produced in the dog's bone marrow and their main job is engulfing any foreign particles found in the dog's body. Their normal range is between 100 to 1200 per microliter.

Elevated Neutrophils in Dogs

An elevated number of neutrophils is a sign of the body trying to fight off a sudden, acute infection. The infection may be localized to the dog's intestinal tract, liver, kidneys, uterus, nervous system or blood stream, explains veterinarian Dr. Christian K. 

Neutrophils are created in the dog's bone marrow and then released into the bloodstream. When they are young, they present a single-lobed nucleus and are referred to as 'bands'. As they mature, they assume a multi-lobed nucleus and are called 'segs'.

Their main duty, just as eosinophils, is to 'engulf and destroy' bacteria. Elevated numbers of neutrophils are therefore indicative of infection. At times, high levels however may be also present in highly stressed dogs. The normal number of mature neutrophils range between 3,000 to 12,000 per microliter of blood while the number of young neutrophils range between 100 to 300 per microliter.

Elevated Lymphocytes in Dogs

A high lymphocyte count in dogs can be indicative of an infection, explains veterinarian Dr. Loretta.  Lymphocytes are produced by the dog's lymph nodes and spleen. They are further divided into two categories: B cells and T cells. B cells tend to produce protein molecules which ultimately destroy any invading particles, while T cells, on the other hand, help out other cells get rid of invading particles.

Normal lymphocyte values range from 500 to 4,800 per microliter. An increase of lymphocytes may be indicative of a prolonged infection, an autoimmune disorder, or leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

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Elevated Monocytes and Basophils

The role of Basophils is yet to be understood. They too are produced by the bone marrow but they may or may not be present in the blood sample. At times, their presence may be indicative of heartworm disease.

Monocytes are finally the last type of white blood cells. They are stored in the spleen and bone marrow. Their normal values range between 100 to 1800 per microliter. Their numbers may increase when a dog has some type of chronic inflammation or infection going on in the body, explains veterinarian Dr. Rebecca. If their levels are just a bit high and everything else looks normal, there may be nothing significant going on.

As seen, there are a variety of causes for an increased number of white blood cells in dogs. At times, a high white blood count may prompt the veterinarian to run other diagnostic tests. Treatment is therefore aimed at bringing the values back to normal based on the veterinarian's findings.

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