Lymphopenia in Dogs

Lymphopenia in Dogs
July 14, 2019

Lymphopenia is essentially the absence of a certain type of blood cell called the lymphocyte, anyone can suffer from Lymphopenia including humans, but it isn’t all too uncommon in dogs. 

There are three types of white blood cell in the body, and they all have very important functions including being our body’s first line of defence against disease in the immune systems. Therefore
 Lymphopenia leaves dogs (and humans) more susceptible to picking up pathogens including parasites, viruses, and bacteria. This can mean that Lymphopenia can be an incredibly severe condition. 

Generally, Lymphopenia in dogs is caused primarily by infections such as the common cold. However, in these instances, the condition is usually resolved once the infection has been cleared, which may happen by itself, or for more serious infections a course of antibiotic treatment may be required. 

However, there are also cases of Lymphopenia in dogs where the condition is completely idiopathic meaning that the origin is completely unknown. If this is the case, there may be a more serious condition which has not yet been diagnosed. 

What is Lymphopenia in Dogs?

To understand Lymphopenia, we will first have to understand the Lymphocyte cells.  An incredible number of cells which are found in the blood are red blood cells, these cells take care of transporting oxygen around the body. The second most prevalent cell are the platelets followed by the Leukocytes. Leukocytes are made in the bone marrow and circulate throughout the bloodstream working as a vital part of the immune system. There are multiple kinds of Leukocytes, however, the largest proportion of them are lymphocytes, if there aren’t enough of these, this can lead to Lymphopenia. It is also important to note that there are three further subsets which include natural killer cell, T cells which form to attack certain pathogens and B cells which create antibodies and let the other cells in the body know how to identify and neutralise different pathogens. 

As there are three types of cells which can be affected by Lymphopenia, there are three different types. For example, the HIV virus will attack certain cells and result in the loss of those cells, and B cells can be depleted due to immune-suppressive drugs. The rarest form of Lymphopenia is the depletion of the Natural Killer cells. 

What Causes Lymphopenia in Dogs? 

 There are a number of reasons for Lymphopenia in dogs, however, the most popular include infection and the side effects of certain medicines. Lymphopenia can either effect all of the white blood cells or just the lymphocytes, for example, treatment of viral hepatitis can only deplete the lymphocytes. 

The conditions which Lymphopenia are associated with include: 

  1. Viral infections which affect the bone marrow 
  2. Various congenital disorders which affect the functioning of the bone marrow 
  3. Cancer of the bone marrow 
  4. Autoimmune conditions which can affect the white blood cells and bone marrow cells 
  5. Infections with the potential to destroy white blood cells faster than the rate of production. 
  6. Taking medications such as antibiotics.

The conditions and diseases which are directly related to Lymphopenia include Aplastic anaemia, HIV, Leukaemia, Lupus, Vitamin deficiencies, malnutrition, TB, and tuberculosis. 

Lymphopenia can also occur due to chemotherapy and radiation therapy which doesn’t only destroy the cancerous cells, but it can also affect the white blood cells too. 

Why is a Low White Blood Count Dangerous for Dogs? 

 Low white blood cell counts are easy to spot in dogs, they are routinely picked up by vets when CBC tests are conducted. Sometimes, your vet will be able to tell the cause of the Lymphopenia due to which white blood cells have been affected and how badly they have been depleted. However, it isn’t uncommon for additional tests to be carried out to find the underlying cause behind the Lymphopenia. 

A low white blood count puts dogs at greater risk of all kind of infection as the first line of defence for their immune system isn’t functioning properly. For Lymphopenia in humans, it is easy for them to take special precautions to avoid picking up infections, however, for dogs, it is slightly harder – especially if they are social animals. Dogs can’t wash their hands with soap every time they touch something dirty. However, owners should practice caution if their dog has been diagnosed with Lymphopenia. 

How Lymphopenia in Dogs is Treated 

 The treatment of Lymphopenia in dogs will depend on the underlying cause, as this will need to be treated first. Your dog may be incredibly weak as they are unable to fight off any viruses or infections which they encounter. The potential conditions which may need treatment could include Thrombocytopenia, Neutropenia, Anaemia, Sepsis, Blood Infections, Cancer, Canine Parvo, Distemper, Parasites, and Chronic Renal Disease. Even stress in dogs can allow them to develop Lymphopenia, this is the simplest and easy to treat form, however, it can happen to a lot of dogs who have been abandoned or abused by their owners. An abandoned or abused dog is much less likely to receive treatment when they are ill, which means that Lymphopenia can be incredibly detrimental to the health of the dog. Even dogs who live with incredibly dominant dogs can suffer from Lymphopenia. No one ever likes to consider rehoming their dogs, however, if the health of one of your dogs is in jeopardy, it is something that you will need to consider. 

As there are so many conditions which cause Lymphopenia in dogs, the treatments will vary greatly. Treatments may include antibiotic therapy, chemotherapy, or stress regulation therapy. 

Symptoms of Lymphopenia in Dogs 

 Lymphopenia doesn’t have any symptoms itself, but it can be spotted in connection with other conditions which have more apparent signs. Gastric problems, strange and erratic behaviour, lethargy and weight loss are all commonly associated with Lymphopenia; however, these symptoms can be indicative of a myriad of other conditions too.