Posted By: Greg - Vet

Piper’s precious platelets


Blood in our pet’s bodies is similar to most other mammals and therefore ourselves. As well as red blood cells carrying oxygen, and white blood cells helping to fight infection, another important component of blood circulation are platelets. These small cells are involved in blood clotting, and so are crucial to stop animals bleeding. If platelet numbers are low in our pets, this leaves them vulnerable to potentially life threatening haemorrhage. Piper the 2 year old cocker spaniel was found to suffer from low platelets when he appeared painful, and needed a 9 month course of medication to get his platelet numbers back up to scratch.


Dog’s platelets can be commonly reduced in number as a result of autoimmune disease, where they are destroyed by the body’s own immune system attacking them. This can result in a lot of minor bleeds throughout the body, shown as bleeding from any organ, in joint spaces, from the mouth and between muscles, which can result in pain, fever and lethargy – exactly the symptoms Piper had shown when he came into the vet practice having been off colour for a few days. Most commonly pain in muscles and legs of our dogs is due to strains, but when Piper wouldn’t respond to pain killers, and was later found to have a temperature and small bleed in his eye and gum, a blood sample was taken to investigate.


Suspicions were raised of immune mediated, or autoimmune disease, as young Cocker spaniels can be quite prone to these conditions. Later that day, the blood test revealed a very low platelet count in Piper’s circulation – in fact there were barely any seen in his sample! It was determined that Piper’s platelets had been attacked by his own immune system, so he would need medication to suppress his immune system, to allow his platelet numbers to build up again.


Steroids are the most commonly used immunosuppressive medications for our pets, and are usually given in tablet form at home. So Piper’s owner started a high dose course of daily tablets in the hope that his symptoms would subside. Unfortunately, as good as steroids can be, they can bring with them a lot of side effects, such as excessive hunger, thirst, urination and panting which Piper began to demonstrate. When Piper returned to the practice for a monitoring blood test, unfortunately it was found that his platelet numbers hadn’t really increased, so he needed an additional immunosuppressant to control his condition better. This was a drug known as mycophenolate, which can be quite powerful and show side effects of diarrhoea. 


However, both of the medications alongside each other slowly started to work, Piper’s bloodshot eye resolved whilst he became brighter and more comfortable, and on each weekly visit to the practice, Piper’s platelet count would slowly rise. Along the way due to his body being immunosuppressed by the tablets Piper also picked up a tummy bug, but finally his normal platelet count was reached. It was at this point that Piper’s medications could be lowered. Immunosuppressants, especially steroids, need to be tapered or withdrawn very slowly to be safe, and a blood sample checked after each medication drop to avoid a relapse. 9 months down the line and Piper is now medication free having had his last blood test confirm a normal platelet count.



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