Canine cytopenia, or thrombocytopenia as it's called, is a medical disorder that occurs when blood platelets, created in bone marrow and released into the bloodstream, drop below acceptable levels. Adequate levels of platelets are required in order for a canine’s blood to clot properly. Low levels can lead to hemorrhaging and possibly death.
Thrombocytopenia is caused by numerous medical conditions. Among them are lymphoma, leukemia and severe blood loss due to trauma. The most common cause, however, is infection. When a canine’s body is trying to fight an infection such as the distemper virus, his immune system may inadvertently destroy needed platelets in the process.
Although a canine does not always display symptoms of bleeding, it is important to consider any signs that a problem exists. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite and general weakness. You may notice hemorrhaging under the skin on his belly or groin area. He may cough and have a lot of mucus coming from his nose, or he may develop tiny hemorrhages called petechiae inside his mouth. Blood may also appear in his feces or urine.
Only a veterinarian can diagnose and treat canine thrombocytopenia. Diagnosis usually begins with your veterinarian drawing blood to measure your dog’s blood platelet count. It’s important to advise your veterinarian if your canine friend has suffered any physical trauma or if he has any ongoing medical problems. Depending on the veterinarians initial assessment, he may need to conduct further tests, X-rays and ultrasounds to locate the underlying cause of thrombocytopenia.
Treatment of canine thrombocytopenia depends on the underlying cause. If it’s determined that your dog has an infection, the veterinarian will likely prescribe him antibiotics. If his immune system has a problem, he may be given a corticosteroid and immunosuppressive medication. For thrombocytopenia brought on by cancer, the treatment will be based upon the type of cancer your canine has. In severe cases, a blood transfusion may be necessary to increase blood platelets and anemia. Only a veterinarian can treat canine thrombocytopenia.
Canine thrombocytopenia cannot be prevented. The success of treatment depends upon the underlying cause and how quickly veterinarian care begins. While your dog's undergoing treatment, you may be advised to limit his chances of getting injured. You'll reduce his physical activities and feed him soft foods to prevent his gums from bleeding.
By Yvonne Ward
Pet MD: Low Platelet Count in Dogs
National Center for Biotechnology Information: Canine Distemper-Virus-Induced Thrombocytopenia
The Humane Society of the United States: Having Trouble Affording Veterinary Care?
ASPCA: Emergency Care
About the Author
Yvonne Ward began her professional writing career in 2004. She wrote a true-crime book published in 2010 and has two more underway. She also has a strong background in business, education and farm living. Ward is pursuing a Master of Arts in history and culture from Union Institute and University.