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White Blood Cells In Cat EarsUpdated 10 months ago

White blood cells (WBC) are immune cells that react to the presence of inflammation (redness) or infection by microbes (bacteria and/or yeast). 

Produced in the bone marrow, they squeeze out of blood vessels to “crawl” toward crisis areas of the body. The two types of WBC most often seen under the microscope (1000x magnification) in an ear swab sample cytology are neutrophils and lymphocytes. Neutrophils are the most common immune cell and first line of defense against microbes, sometimes seen stuffed with the bacteria they’ve gobbled up. Based on their appearance, they get categorized as either degenerate or non-degenerate. A neutrophil that is non-degenerate is “ready for battle” while the degenerate neutrophil is “in battle”. 

Similarly, a non-reactive lymphocyte is the “ready for battle” version while the reactive lymphocyte is the “in battle” version. Lymphocytes are second line defenders, using the more targeted antibody-antigen weaponry to kill invading microbes. While these microscopic distinctions can seem nuanced, such classifications help veterinarians distinguish inflammation versus infection, and acute versus chronic ear conditions. This in turn helps them choose the best treatment for your pet. 

If either white blood cell count is high (1+, 2+, 3+, 4+) in your cat’s ear swab samples, and/or with one or more clinical signs (e.g., scratching at head), then a veterinary physical exam of your cat’s ears is needed.


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