Lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system sees normal cells as foreign and attacks them by mistake, causing damage to healthy cells, organs, and tissues. There are two types of lupus that can affect cats: systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE). SLE is a more serious form of the disease as it can wreak havoc on the entire body. DLE is rarer and affects only a cat’s skin, including the lips, ears, skin around the eyes, and genitals.
Lupus can be a difficult disease to diagnose and treat because the symptoms can mimic so many other conditions and treatment is often ongoing. Read on to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of lupus in cats.
Causes of Lupus in Cats
In the 19th century, the disease was given the name “lupus” after the Latin word for “wolf.” This is because humans affected by the disease often exhibited a facial rash that looked like the face of a wolf, and it was believed to be caused by a wolf bite. Scientists know now that this is not the case, but the true causes of lupus still remain a mystery.
Many experts believe that there may be a genetic predisposition and that environmental factors (such as pollutants) and ultraviolet light (sunlight) can also play a role.
The cat breeds that seem to be the most affected by lupus include the Himalayan, the Persian, and the Siamese.
Symptoms of Lupus in Cats
The symptoms of SLE may be acute (appear suddenly) or chronic (they come and go). The most common symptoms of SLE include:
- Fever that does not respond to antibiotics
- Shifting leg lameness
- Painful joints and muscles
- Lack of appetite
- Low platelet and white blood cell numbers
- Skin lesions (especially on the bridge of the nose)
- Oral ulcers
- Increased thirst and urination
Common symptoms of DLE include:
- Loss of pigmentation around lips, eyes, ears, or genitals
- Skin scaling
- Change in texture of the nose (rough to smooth)
- Ulcerated sores
Many of the symptoms of both SLE and DLE can mimic other disorders, so it is important for the veterinarian to make a positive diagnosis before beginning treatment.
Diagnosing Lupus in Cats
You should visit your veterinarian for a diagnosis if your cat is showing symptoms of either form of the disease.
SLE is typically diagnosed through an examination of physical symptoms as well as a series of lab tests, including blood work and urinalysis. Your veterinarian will need to look at all of the clinical signs in order to exclude other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as cancer or infection.
DLE is definitively diagnosed through a skin biopsy. In some cases, sedation or anesthesia may be required to calm an anxious cat or if the skin sample will be taken from a sensitive area.
Treatment for Lupus in Cats
There is no cure for lupus, and many cats will require lifelong treatment. Treatment is primarily aimed at suppressing the inappropriate immune response and reducing pain and inflammation. More specific treatments may be required if a cat’s organs have been affected by SLE.
Common treatment options for SLE include:
- Anti-inflammatory/immunosuppressive drugs, including NSAIDs and corticosteroids such as Prednisone and Dexamethasone.
- Some cats may require stronger immunosuppressive drugs, such as Cyclosporine.
- Antibiotics if a secondary infection is present.
- Limited exposure to sunlight.
Common treatment options for DLE include:
- Oral steroids such as Prednisone.
- Topical steroid creams, though these are often licked off by cats.
- Antibiotics to treat any secondary infections.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids and vitamin E can provide relief from inflammation and swelling.
- Limited exposure to sunlight.
The Usual Prognosis for a Cat With Lupus
The prognosis for cats with lupus can vary and will depend on the severity of your cat’s condition. Some cats with SLE will survive with the help of long-term treatments to control the immune response. Other cats will not survive. In general, the prognosis for cats suffering with SLE is guarded.
Cats with DLE fair better than cats with SLE, and this is because DLE is not life-threatening. They may still require long-term treatment, but most cats with DLE feel perfectly healthy and the only lasting effect is the physical disfigurement.
Cats diagnosed with lupus should not be bred because of the potential genetic component.
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