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What Causes High White Blood Cell Count in Dogs?

The Importance of Getting a Complete Blood Count

By Ellen Thompson. January 20, 2014 | See Comments

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A high white blood cell count can be an indication that your dog is sick. Find out what the different illnesses are that can cause your dog's white blood cell count to rise.

Running periodic complete blood counts on your dog may be one of the best things you can do for their overall health. A high white blood cell count in dogs could explain why your dog is acting a little moody or why they’re shedding more hair than normal.

A complete blood count determines the number and types of blood cells present, specifically red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. A normal white blood cell count in dogs typically ranges from 6,000 to 17,000 per microliter of blood. However, that ‘normal’ range could vary depending on the breed and age of the dog.

White blood cells’ main purpose is to defend the body against infections of the viral, bacterial, and fungal nature. Your dog’s blood contains a militia of these white blood cells, also called leukocytes, which take the form of neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes.

  • Neutrophils and eosinophils, which are produced in the dog's bone marrow, are released into the bloodstream to destroy bacteria.
  • Basophils are also produced in the bone marrow, but researchers aren’t entirely clear as to their main purpose.
  • Lymphocytes are produced in the dog's lymph nodes and spleen.
  • Monocytes are stored in the spleen and bone marrow.

Your vet will likely recommend a complete blood count when your dog is exhibiting signs of an illness, and they’re unable to diagnose with a physical exam or other common diagnostic measures.

Why Would a Dog have a High Blood Cell Count?

  • Viral, bacterial, or fungal infections can lead to high numbers of white blood cells, causing neutrophil levels to increase beyond their normal range of 3,000 and 12,000 per microliter. Bacterial infections can include skin infections, bordetella (kennel cough), salmonella, and eColi.

  • Parasites, such as worms, can cause eosinophils levels to increase beyond their normal range of 100 to 1,200 per microliter.

  • Autoimmune diseases, such as colitis, can cause lymphocytes levels to increase beyond their normal range of 500 to 4,500 per microliter.

  • Leukemia or other types of cancer can cause lymphocytes and monocytes levels to increase.

  • Allergic reactions can cause eosinophils levels to increase.

  • Stress can cause neutrophil levels to increase.

How You’ll Know if Something is Wrong

Symptoms are typically related to the cause of the high white blood cell count.

  • If the cause is an infection, symptoms will appear as fever, lack of appetite, moodiness, and fatigue. If the infection is external there may be a rash, wound, or abscess.

  • If the cause is parasites, such as heartworm, symptoms are coughing, fatigue, and weight loss. Tapeworms will cause abdominal bloating or swelling, increased appetite, and lethargy.

  • If the cause is an autoimmune disease, the symptoms will vary depending on the disease. Swollen joints may be present, or hair loss and ulcers on the skin, or fever and fatigue.

  • If the cause is leukemia or other types of cancer, symptoms will typically appear as swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, frequent urination, increased thirst, and fatigue.

  • If the cause is allergies, symptoms be continuous itching and scratching.

  • If the cause is stress, symptoms will appear as moodiness, aggression, decrease in social interaction, and decreased appetite.

Treatment Options

If a complete blood count shows that your dog’s white blood cell levels are high, there are a number of treatments your vet may recommend, tailored to the cause of the high blood cell count.

Parasites, autoimmune diseases, leukemia, allergies, and stress will all be treated with the best option for your pet.

As the condition is treated the symptoms should clear and the results of follow up blood tests should show white blood cell counts leveling out to the recommended range.

More on Dog Health

5 Things to Know About Anxiety in Dogs
Mast Cell Cancer in Dogs and Cats
Parvo Symptoms in Dogs

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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