Anaphylactic Shock In Cats - Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
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Many people are rightly concerned about having an allergy to cats. When exposed, severe cat allergy sufferers may experience anaphylaxis, an acute allergic reaction which threatens their life. Such an emphasis on allergies to cats may make us forget that cats themselves can have allergies. The presence of external agents, breathing in an allergen or eating something they shouldn't can lead a cat to have a severe allergic reaction.
It is essential for any cat guardian to know that it is possible for a cat to have allergies and what they need to do in an emergency. This is why AnimalWised brings you this report on anaphylactic shock in cats and provides specific information on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of this serious condition.
Causes of anaphylactic shock in cats
Any cat may be susceptible to anaphylactic shock, also known as anaphylaxis. However, it is also possible a cat will simply never come in contact with an allergen which affects them personally. The extent of an allergic reaction in cats will depend on the sensitivity of the individual animal and how much allergen to which they have been exposed.
If a cat goes into anaphylaxis, it will not be the first time they have been exposed to the allergen. Cats will need to have an initial exposure which won't do them any immediate harm. After the second time they are exposed to the allergen, the cat's affected immunity cells will undergo a process known as degranulation. This process results in the allergic reaction. It is possible for late-stage responses to occur whereby the reaction takes up to 24 hours.
The major causes of anaphylactic shock in cats are:
- Insect bites/stings: this is something which happens much more to outdoor cats, although it can happen to any of them. When the cat is hypersensitive to a particular chemical in the bite or sting, their reaction is heightened and can lead to shock. Some insects can only sting once, others multiple times. Since cats stalk insects for hunting practice, they may get stung in their pursuit.
- Food: while there are some foodstuffs which are toxic to cats and will lead to gastrointestinal problems, some cats will have a specific allergy which can lead to anaphylaxis. It is not well-known why some cats have antigens to certain foods, but their hypersensitivity may stem from a genetic predisposition. Food allergies can also develop at different stages of the cat's life.
- Medication: certain drugs or medications may have antigens to which the cat is sensitive. This is why we need to be vigilant for any side effects when we are prescribed drugs by a vet and why we should never give medications to a cat without prescription. This article on whether cats can be given amoxicillin sheds more light on the subject.
- Chemicals: substances in cleaning products, toiletries and other chemicals can cause an allergic reaction when the cat comes in touch with them. If they are hypersensitive it can lead to anaphylactic shock. Milder cases will result in contact dermatitis.
- Vaccinations: in very rare cases, it is possible for a cat to have an allergic reaction to a vaccination. Young adult cats are at the greatest risk of an adverse reaction. However, anaphylaxis is very rare and does not outweigh the benefits provided by vaccinations.
- Blood transfusion: also very rare, but it is possible allergens can be passed on through blood during a transfusion.
If we have seen the cat interact with any of the above possible allergens, we need to be observant for any symptoms of anaphylactic shock. We detail these symptoms below.
Symptoms of anaphylactic shock in cats
Allergic reactions are possible in cats, whether they are an outdoor or indoor cat. It is more common for the reaction to be mild and we may not even notice some skin reactions due to their fur covering the affected area. However, we need to be very careful in case the reaction develops into shock.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis in cats include:
- Nervous and jittery behavior
- Swelling around the face, particularly eyes and lips
- Inflammation at the site of a bite or sting
- Skin redness or pustules
- Difficulty breathing causing them to stretch out their neck with mouth open (caused by possible contraction of the bronchi and/or pulmonary adema)
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting
- Lowered blood pressure
- Pale or bright red mucus membranes
- Weakness and fatigue
An anaphylactic shock in cats is considered a veterinary emergency and the cat will need to be taken to an animal hospital immediately. In some cases, a severe allergic reaction can be fatal.
What to do if your cat goes into anaphylactic shock
Anaphylactic shock is both severe and progressive, so you should go to the veterinarian immediately. Don't wait for the next day or medicate the cat yourself. Giving them the wrong medication can exacerbate the problem and internal reactions may not have symptoms which are as obvious as some. Not going to the veterinarian puts your cats life in serious jeopardy.
While it is understandable, becoming stressed during your cat's reaction will not help the situation. We need to stay calm and reassure the cat as they will not understand what is happening to them.
Treatment of anaphylactic shock in cats
We must first stress that there are no home remedies to treat anaphylaxis in cats. We will need to take them to the veterinarian who will carry out various treatment procedures. Such procedures will depend on the severity of case, the age of the feline patient, their weight, the cause of the allergic reaction and other factors. Availability of treatment options may also be limited which is one reason why it is important to go to a veterinary hospital where possible.
After confirming the diagnosis of anaphylactic shock, the veterinarian will generally administer fast-acting antihistamines and corticosteroids. If the shock is due to a sting, it will be necessary to remove the stinger. When secondary bacterial infections are caused, antibiotics may be required.
Patient supervision will need to be maintained for as long as necessary, i.e. when symptoms subside and the body returns to normal. Depending on the severity of the condition the veterinarian may prescribe additional medications such as fluid therapy. An intubation tube may need to be inserted if the airways are severely restricted.
The veterinarian is also likely to order various diagnostic tests, such as chest x-rays or blood tests. An intubation tube may need to be inserted if the airways are severely restricted. Oxygen therapy and is also fairly common. The vet will tell us how long the cat will need to be hospitalized before returning home.
Is it possible to prevent anaphylactic shock in cats?
Perhaps the most significant hindrance in preventing anaphylactic shock is that it is almost impossible to know whether a cat has an allergy. Most allergies in cats are discovered after the reaction takes place. However, there are some tips you can follow to minimize the possibility of anaphylaxis:
- Avoid exposing your cat to common allergens.
- If you know your cat is allergic to insect bites or stings, be careful when any are in the presence of your cat. You should also ask your veterinarian about topical medication which can be used to prevent or slow anaphylaxis.
- If your cat is allergic or intolerant to certain foods, consult your vet about implementing an elimination diet.
Remember, anaphylactic shock in cats is a serious health problem. It can lead to the death of your cat if they do not receive urgent veterinary assistance. Do not hesitate if you see one or more symptoms mentioned in this article.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
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1. Moore, G. E., et al. (2007). Adverse events after vaccine administration in cats: 2,560 cases (2002–2005). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 231(1), 94-100.