Your cat’s most important artillery is an odd conglomeration of cells and tissue comprising her immune system. It is her defense against everything from hookworms to an upper respiratory infection. Certain viruses and infections can compromise one of the most important systems in your kitty’s body.
Immune System Function
Your cat’s immune system functions as her barrier to all outside bacteria, viruses and parasites. When her immune system is compromised, she will seem lethargic and weak, and lack appetite. It’s important to seek veterinary care if your cat becomes increasingly lethargic. She may become seriously ill if left untreated. Your vet will assess her immune system function through a series of blood tests, including a CBC, or complete blood count. A low white blood cell count indicates poor immune system function. A cat with low white blood cells will have trouble fighting off diseases and infection, which can develop easily into life-threatening complications. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
Feline Immunodeficiency (FIV) is the feline equivalent of AIDS. Cats with FIV may appear normal and healthy for many years, but eventually the virus will lead to a compromised immune system and secondary infection. These secondary infections, easily fought off by cats with healthy immune systems, can become life threatening for a kitty with FIV. Many FIV-positive cats are asymptomatic, but some present the following signs: poor coat condition, inflammation of the gums and mouth, persistent diarrhea, slow weight loss, cancer, blood disease and reproductive failure. It’s important to make these kitties single cats, as FIV is spread easily through bite wounds. Unfortunately, there is no cure for FIV; however, cats diagnosed early may live for years under ideal conditions (nutrient-rich diet and regular wellness visits).
Feline Leukemia Virus
The Feline Leukemia Virus attacks your cat’s immune system, leading to persistent infection and severe suppression of her immune system . Kitties with the virus are at high risk for secondary infection. The virus also can cause dormant infections to resurface. All new kittens should be tested for the virus during their first veterinary visit. Fortunately, uninfected kitties are good candidates for the Feline Leukemia vaccine. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for infected kitties.
Genetic defects cause congenital immune deficiency, also referred to as primary immunodeficiency. There is no cure for primary immunodeficiency. Kitties with this disorder are born with poor immune system function, and will need help managing the condition throughout their lives. Veterinarians often recommend nutrient rich prescription diets and minimized exposure to infection to prevent illness.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.