Lupus In Cats: A Disease That Can Mimic Other Conditions The "Chameleon" Disease

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Lupus can be a very tricky disease. Many times it appears to be something else based on it's wide range of symptoms. However, don't let yourself be fooled. Learn everything you need to know, from causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and more here.

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
  • Stiffness
  • Painful joints and muscles
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Anemia
  • 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
  • Redness
  • 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 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 from SLE is guarded.

Cats with DLE fare 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 physical disfigurement.

Cats diagnosed with lupus should not be bred because of the potential genetic component.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the treatment for feline lupus?

Feline lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in cats, is an autoimmune disease that can affect various organs and tissues in the body. The treatment of feline lupus depends on the severity of the symptoms and the organs affected. Immunosuppressive therapy is often the most common treatment for feline lupus as it helps to suppress the overactive immune system that is attacking the body's own tissues and causing inflammation and other symptoms. Medications like corticosteroids, azathioprine, and cyclosporine may be prescribed for this purpose. However, the specific treatment plan may vary depending on the severity of the symptoms and the organs affected, and your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best course of action for your cat. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) medications can help relieve pain and inflammation associated with feline lupus. Examples of NSAIDs that may be prescribed include aspirin, meloxicam, and firocoxib. Topical treatments like corticosteroid creams may be used to help manage skin lesions or ulcers that are a symptom of feline lupus. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat bacterial infections that can occur as a complication of feline lupus. A diet that is rich in essential fatty acids and antioxidants may help support the immune system and improve the overall health of cats with feline lupus.

What are the signs of lupus?

The signs of lupus in cats can vary depending on which organs and tissues are affected by the disease. Lupus nephritis is a common complication of lupus in cats, where the immune system attacks the kidneys, leading to inflammation and damage. Signs of kidney problems may include increased thirst and urination, loss of appetite, vomiting, weight loss, and lethargy. Mouth sores, also known as oral ulcers, are a common symptom of feline lupus. These sores may appear on the lips, gums, tongue, or roof of the mouth and can be painful and make it difficult for cats to eat or drink. Skin lesions, such as ulcers or scaly patches, are a common sign of lupus in cats. These lesions may appear on the face, ears, nose, or other areas of the body. Cats with lupus may experience joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, which can cause them to be less active and may lead to difficulty walking or jumping. Persistent fever is another sign of lupus in cats. The fever may be accompanied by other symptoms such as lethargy, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Cats with lupus may experience respiratory problems such as coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. This may be due to inflammation in the lungs or other respiratory tract infections.

Can lupus be stopped?

There is no cure for lupus in cats, but the disease can be managed with appropriate treatment. The goal of treatment is to control the symptoms of the disease and prevent further damage to the affected organs and tissues. With proper treatment and ongoing monitoring, many cats with lupus can lead relatively normal lives. However, the disease is chronic and may require lifelong management.

Can lupus be cured by antibiotics?

Antibiotics are not a cure for lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body's immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, but they do not affect the underlying autoimmune process that causes lupus. However, antibiotics may be prescribed to treat secondary bacterial infections that can occur in cats with lupus. For example, cats with lupus may be more susceptible to skin and urinary tract infections due to their weakened immune system. Treating these infections with antibiotics can help to prevent further complications and improve the cat's overall health.

What foods make lupus worse?

There is limited research on the effect of specific foods on lupus in cats, and there is no specific diet that has been proven to make lupus worse or better in cats. However, as with humans, a well-balanced and nutritious diet can help support the overall health of cats with lupus and may help to reduce inflammation. In general, cats with lupus may benefit from a diet that is high in protein, low in carbohydrates and contains essential fatty acids.

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