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Reticulocyte Count in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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A reticulocyte count is a measure of the number of reticulocytes circulating in the blood. A reticulocyte is an immature stage of a red blood cell that contains fragments of a nucleus. Normally, red blood cells are formed in the bone marrow and released into circulation. Normal mature red blood cells do not contain a nucleus or any nuclear material.

The primary purpose of the red blood cells is to transport oxygen, which is bound to hemoglobin within the red blood cell. A low level of red blood cells is termed anemia. Many times, the body recognizes the anemia and attempts to correct the situation by releasing more than normal amounts of red blood cells. Since the turnover rate of red blood cells needs to be quicker than normal in an attempt to correct the anemia, immature red blood cells, or reticulocytes, are released, which contain remnants of nuclear material.

In the presence of anemia, a low reticulocyte count indicates that the body does not recognize the anemia and is not trying to correct the situation. On the other hand, a high reticulocyte count indicates that the body does recognize the anemia and is responding by releasing the immature cells and "regenerating new cells". You may hear your veterinarian refer to an anemia as regenerative or nonregenerative. The reticulocyte count will help them determine if the body is "regenerating". To learn more, please read anemia.

There are no real contraindications to performing this test on an anemic animal.

What Does a Reticulocyte Count Reveal?

A reticulocyte count reveals whether or not the body is responding to an anemic situation. In the presence of anemia, a high level of reticulocytes carries a better prognosis than an anemic patient with a low reticulocyte count.

How Is a Reticulocyte Count Done?

In order to perform a reticulocyte count, your veterinarian must draw a blood sample, which is placed in a special glass tube. The blood is mixed with a stain that allows visualization of nuclear material. Some veterinary clinics have the ability to perform this test in their hospital; others rely on outside laboratories. The test typically takes about an hour to run once the blood reaches the lab. If submitted to an outside laboratory, the test results may not be available for up to 1 to 2 days.

Is a Reticulocyte Count Painful?

Any pain involved is associated with the collection of the blood sample, since a needle is used to pierce the skin and enter a blood vessel to draw the sample. As with people, the pain experienced from a needle will vary from individual to individual.

Is Sedation or Anesthesia Needed for a Reticulocyte Count?

Neither sedation nor anesthesia is needed in most patients; however, some pets resent needle sticks and may need tranquilization or ultrashort anesthesia.

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