Lupus Erythematosis in Cats

Lupus erythematosus is an immune system mediated disease and may be found in felines. A cat affected by lupus erythematosus will have a hyperactive immune system that will attack its own tissues and organs. The disease has unknown causes and cannot be cured. However, a feline with lupus erythematosus can be kept under medication to prevent complications or death.

Causes of Lupus Erythematosus

Autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus have undetermined causes, but have been associated with:

  • Vaccination
  • Drugs
  • Exposure to harsh chemicals or sun

Heredity may also play a role in cats with lupus erythematosus, and some vets believe the disease is inherited.

Symptoms of Feline Lupus Erythematosus

Lupus erythematosus can manifest in several ways, depending on what areas are attacked by the immune system. The immune system will produce some antibodies which will cause the inflammation of certain tissues and may also damage organs. A cat with lupus erythematosus may display the following symptoms:

  • Skin irritation and lesions affecting the mucous membranes
  • Fever
  • Anemia (if the red blood cells are attacked)
  • Kidney problems, leading to frequent urination or incontinence and a large amount of proteins eliminated in the urine
  • Lameness
  • Swelling of extremities
  • The dog will bruise easily
  • Excessive production of dandruff
  • Hair loss in patches
  • Joint pain, leading to limping
  • Muscular pain
  • Lack of appetite
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Swollen organs (i.e., liver or spleen) which result in an enlarged abdomen

Diagnosing Lupus Erythematosus

The diagnosis of lupus erythematosus may be a lengthy procedure, as the cat will have to go through several tests. The vet will perform a blood test, the antinuclear test, which can indicate if the cat is affected by lupus erythematosus. The test may be negative, but the cat can still have lupus erythematosus. This happens in approximately 10% of cases.

A series of other tests will be performed (such as a urinalysis to detect the concentration of proteins in the urine) and the vet will also establish if any organs are affected. The organs that are affected will be swollen. Some cats affected by lupus erythematosus may only have skin problems or joint pain.

Lupus Erythematosus Management in Felines

Lupus erythematosus may be fatal in cats and the prognosis is poor if the internal organs are affected. If the kidneys are damaged or the antinuclear bodies attack the heart, the cat may die within one year. This happens in more than 40% of cats with lupus erythematosus.

However, the typical course of treatment will consist of immune system suppressor drugs such as prednisone or other corticosteroids. If the cat's internal organs are not affected and the cat receives treatment, he may lead a normal life. However, you need to take care of your pet and make sure he avoids sun and other triggers that could activate the immune system and the disease.