Tackling The Veterinary Terminology: Suffixes (-penia)

Remember the Spelling Bee? Big words are easier to tackle when you understand how they're put together. Veterinary terms are composed in the same way. Just like with other words, the main parts of a veterinary term are a prefix, a root, and a suffix. The difference is that they typically come more directly from Greek or Latin.

The suffix is the bit that will tell you about what procedure, condition, disease or disorder you're dealing with.
-penia [peniā] from Greek - deficiency, decrease in number

To clarify right from the start, no, this has nothing to do with reproductive organs, rather, again, typically with blood. The reason I picked this one next was because I had this question on my mind:

Why an-emia but thrombocyto-penia?

Anemia is a deficiency of red blood cells, and thrombocytopenia is low platelet count. So why anemia and not erythrocytopenia?

Well, the term erythrocytopenia actually does exist—just rolls off your tongue, doesn't it? These terms are often used interchangeably. Personally, I'm quite thankful for the shorter, simpler anemia. Sometimes easy does it.

While -emia stands for too much OR too little of something in the blood (often defined by the prefix); -penia always means too little.

Thrombocytopenia is a common, but no the only example of veterinary terms ending with -penia.

You can encounter terms such as leukopenia (low white blood cells), neutropenia (low neutrophils), lymphopenia (low lymphocytes). For example, you might here these words if your dog gets a toxoplasmosis infection. Dogs undergoing chemotherapy are also likely to develop leukopenia.

Pancytopenia is really special, as it is a simultaneous development of a whole number of blood-related deficiencies, which can include anemia, leucopenia, and thrombocytopenia.

All these things typically don't refer to a disease itself, rather an outcome of one.

So again, these terms will tell you what, but by themselves won't always tell you WHY. And it is the WHY that is important.


Related articles:
What's In The Blood? Blood Testing And Interpretation

Veterinary Suffixes (-itis)
Veterinary Suffixes (-oma) 
Veterinary Suffixes (-pathy)  
Veterinary Suffixes (-osis) 
Veterinary Suffixes (-iasis) 
Veterinary Suffixes (-tomy) 
Veterinary Suffixes (-ectomy)  
Veterinary Suffixes (-scopy) 
Veterinary Suffixes (-emia)


  1. Thanks for this excellent, informative article. Will pass it along.
    Thanks also for tweeting my post.

  2. do you know the term for loss of reflexes?

  3. I think such things typically fall under neuropathies. Paralysis also comes to mind ... do you have something in particular in mind?


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