Low White Blood Cell Count in Cats

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An exam and blood work will tell your vet what's wrong with Fluffy.
An exam and blood work will tell your vet what's wrong with Fluffy. (Image: екатерина максименко/iStock/Getty Images)

White blood cells help your kitty's body fight infections and keep her healthy. If your vet has ordered a complete blood count, it will tell you whether your cat's white blood cell count is low and which kinds of white blood cells, specifically, are low. A low white blood cell count value can indicate several health conditions and the results, along with your cat's symptoms, will help your vet properly diagnose your kitty's health problem.

The White Blood Cells

Your cat has five different types of white blood cells, all of which help to fight infections in the body. A cat has neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils and basophils. White blood cells are produced in your cat's bone marrow, lymph nodes and spleen. A complete blood count will show your vet the overall level of white blood cells in your cat's blood sample. It also will show him the levels of all five different types of white blood cells, which can help him narrow the possible cause of your cat's illness. Most types of white blood cells surround and neutralize pathogens in your kitty's body, while lymphocytes produce antibodies to fight them.

Low White Blood Cell Count

Without enough white blood cells in her blood, your cat is at a higher risk of infection than a cat with a normal white blood cell count. In the blood test results you and your vet receive for your cat, white blood cell counts are listed as thousands per cubic milliliter (K/uL). The normal range of white blood cell count values is usually between 5.5 and 19.5, according to The Cat Practice website. Note that these values may vary by the lab used to perform the test, so consult with your vet. If your kitty has values lower than 5.5, her white blood cell count may be considered low, a condition known as leukopenia. Your vet will determine what is causing your kitty's lack of white blood cells.

Low White Blood Cell Count Causes

Prolonged or chronic illnesses or inflammation can lead to a low white blood cell count, usually after an initially high one. This is because your cat's body can't keep producing an elevated level of white blood cells to fight off infectious agents or combat inflammation for the long term. Conditions that initially result in high white blood cell count values include allergies, kidney disease, cancerous leukemia and chronic pancreatitis, but eventually might cause low values. Viral infections including panleukopenia; the feline immunodeficiency virus can lower your cat's white blood cell count, especially her neutrophils. Persian cats may suffer from Chédiak-Higashi syndrome, which can cause leukopenia. Stress, bone marrow problems, autoimmune diseases and blood poisoning can cause low white blood cell count values as well.

Medications that Lower White Blood Cell Count

Adverse reactions to any medication can cause a low white blood cell count. Cats with hyperthyroidism may be given the drug methimazole to treat it. This drug can suppress the production of white blood cells, leading to a low white blood cell count, which can be dangerous. Some antibiotics, including trimethoprim-sulfa may cause low white blood cell count values, as can fever-lowering medications like dipyrone, warns veterinarian Ron Hines of website 2ndchance.info. Corticosteroids can lower your feline friend's white blood cell count, especially his eosinophils. Chemotherapy medications to treat cancer in cats also may lower her white blood cell count. Consult with your vet if your kitty is on any medications about whether regular blood screenings are necessary to monitor for fluctuations in her white blood cell count.

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