Clinical Pathology for Exotic Small Mammals

Key Points

  • Approximately 0.5 to 1.0 ml of blood may be safely collected per 100 grams of body weight.
  • White blood cell counts for most mammals fall between 5,000 to 15,000 cells/µl, however white cell counts for rabbits and geriatric ferrets are generally lower, measuring 4,000 to 10,000 cells/µl and 3,000 to 6,000 cells/µl ,respectively.
  • Rabbits have heterophils instead of neutrophils. These polymorphonuclear white blood cells possess many pink or red cytoplasmic granules.
  • When interpreting the differential, first determine the primary leukocyte for that species. Lymphocytes predominate in some small mammals like the rabbit.
  • When challenged with a bacterial infection, rabbits and ferrets sometimes display a shift in the heterophil/neutrophil:lymphocyte ratio, often without an overall increase in leukocytes.
  • The most common cause of hypoglycemia in ferrets is insulinoma.
  • Calcium levels may be elevated in normal rabbits fed high calcium (i.e. alfalfa-based) diets.

Small mammals, such as rabbits and rodents, are stoic by nature and have evolved to mask their illness to avoid predation. This behavior can create a false sense of security in owners and a clinical challenge for veterinarians. In some cases, an animal that appears clinically normal may in fact have a terminal illness. Use hematology and biochemistry analysis to characterize the true physiological status of these species and aid in disease diagnosis . . .


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