Red Blood Cells: Signs of Anaemia

White Blood Cells:

Signs of Infection or Inflammation:







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Home > Diagnosis > Complete Blood Count



  • A complete blood count, also known as haematology, examines the blood cells in the body.

  • There are two types of blood cell, red blood cells (RBCs) and white blood cells (WBCs).

  • Red blood counts help to determine whether a cat is anaemic

  • White blood cells help to determine whether a cat has an infection or inflammation.

Pet Education has information about the complete blood count and what it means.

How to get the maximum information out of feline haematology (2011) is a presentation by Dr T Ishida to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress.


Red Blood Cells: Anaemia                                                                                Back to Page Index


Examining the red blood cells enables your vet to check for anaemia. S/he will be looking at packed cell volume (PCV) or haematocrit (HCT), reticulocytes, red blood cells and measures of iron levels, including iron itself, mean cell volume (MCV), ferritin, MCHC and TIBC.


Since anaemia is an important topic for CKD cats, it has a dedicated page which includes an explanation of all the above.


The Internet Pathology Laboratory explains more about red blood cells.

Pro Vet explains more about red blood cells.


White Blood Cells (WBC): Infection or Inflammation                                  Back to Page Index


White blood cells, sometimes called leukocytes, are the body's defence system. If inflammation or infection are present anywhere in the body, white blood cells will accumulate there to fight the invaders, and therefore the total number of white blood cells will increase. Albumin levels may also be elevated.


There can be other causes of increased white blood cells, such as the use of corticosteroids. WBCs are often very high in cases of acute kidney injury. Cats with very high WBC levels may have increased potassium levels.


In contrast, cats on methimazole for hyperthyroidism may have low white blood cells.


There are four main types of white blood cells, divided into two groups:




There are also basophils but these are only rarely seen.


In order to work out where the problem lies, it is necessary to differentiate between how many of each type of WBC there are. This is called the differential count, and it usually shows two sets of numbers: the actual amount of each type of WBC (abbreviated as absolute or ABS); and the percentage of each type.


Pet Place has some information about WBCs (no need to register to read the article, just click on Close at the bottom of the irritating pop-up).

Pro Vet explains more about the differential count.

RnCeus has a good overview of WBCs.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine explains more about WBCs.



Neutrophils are the most numerous white blood cell. They are produced in the bone marrow. High neutrophils usually indicate the body is fighting a bacterial infection, though sometimes levels are high because of stress or inflammation.


Mature neutrophils are called segs (segmented cells) whilst immature ones are called bands. If a bacterial infection is present, more bands are released into the blood than would normally be the case to help fight it, so the percentage of bands increases compared to segs (sometimes called "a shift to the left"). The higher the number of bands, the more severe the infection.

In contrast, neutrophils are often low in cases of viral infection. They may also be low in cases of severe inflammation or bacterial infection where the body has struggled to keep up with the demand for them. Cats lacking Vitamin B12 and/or folic acid may have low neutrophil levels.

There is also something called a stress leukogram, which occurs when a cat has a chronic illness. In such a case the cat may have a high neutrophil count (an increase in segs rather than bands) with a low lymphocyte count.

Bio Chem Web has a great video of a neutrophil hunting a bacterium.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has some information about segs.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine also has some information about bands.



Eosinophils are also produced in the bone marrow. Levels are often high because of acute or chronic inflammation e.g. that caused by IBD, asthma or allergies. Other possible causes include parasites and occasionally lymphoma, a type of cancer.


Cats on steroids may have low eosinophil levels. Cats with acute or chronic inflammation or infection may also have low eosinophil levels.


Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has some information about eosinophils.



As the name suggests, lymphocytes are produced by the lymph glands, and also by the spleen. They consist of B cells and T cells. B cells work by producing antibodies which neutralise the threat, T cells work with other cells to do the same thing.


Lymphocytes are often low in cases of viral infection or when using steroids. They may also be low in cases of chronic bacterial infections. CKD cats with uraemia (which tends to apply to most CKD cats) often have low lymphocytes.


Lymphocytes may be increased in cases of chronic infection or inflammation, autoimmune disease or leukaemia (cancer of the blood). Cats taking medications for hyperthyroidism may also have elevated lymphocyte levels.

There is also something called a stress leukogram, which occurs when a cat has a chronic illness. In such a case the cat may have a high neutrophil count (an increase in segs rather than bands) with a low lymphocyte count.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has some information about lymphocytes.


Monocytes can be produced in either the bone marrow or the spleen. They are capable of leaving the blood stream to enter surrounding tissues in order to reach hostile bacteria. They also remove damaged body cells, so are often present when there is tissue necrosis (dying tissue). Their numbers do not usually vary much unless leukaemia (cancer of the blood) is present.


Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has some information about monocytes.




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This page last updated: 02 December 2011

Links on this page last checked: 03 April 2012