Systemic Autoimmune Disease in Cats: A Comprehensive Guide

Autoimmune diseases can be a nightmare for both humans and our beloved pets. Imagine an immune system that goes haywire, mistakenly attacking its own body instead of protecting it. In cats, one such condition is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a multisystem autoimmune disease. In this article, we will delve into the world of SLE in cats, exploring its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Understanding Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) in Cats

SLE is characterized by the formation of antibodies against a wide array of self-antigens, which are substances that generate antibodies. These antibodies and circulating immune complexes wreak havoc on various parts of the body, including the kidneys, joints, skin, blood vessels, and more. While SLE is considered rare, it is believed to be underdiagnosed, affecting cats of all ages and genders.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms of SLE in cats can vary depending on the affected organs. Common signs include fatigue, loss of appetite, and fever during the acute phase. Let’s take a look at some specific symptoms based on the affected areas:


  • Deposition of immune complexes in the synovial membranes of joints
  • Swollen and painful joints, a major presenting sign
  • Shifting-leg lameness
  • Muscle pain or wasting


  • Deposition of immune complexes in the skin
  • Skin lesions
  • Redness, scaling, ulcers, depigmentation, and hair loss on the skin
  • Ulceration of mucocutaneous junctions and oral mucosa, commonly occurring near openings like the mouth, anus, and nostrils
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  • Deposition of immune complexes in the kidneys
  • Enlargement of the kidneys and liver (hepatosplenomegaly)

Blood/Lymph/Immune System

  • Autoantibodies against red and white blood cells (erythrocytes and leukocytes)
  • Swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)
  • Other organ systems may be affected if immune complexes or T cell-mediated cells (lymphocytes) attack them

Causes and Diagnosis

Unfortunately, the definitive causes of SLE in cats are still unknown. However, exposure to ultraviolet light may worsen the disease. When diagnosing SLE in cats, a thorough evaluation of the cat’s health and symptoms is crucial. This includes a complete blood profile, chemical blood profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis. Joint pain, kidney inflammation, skin lesions, breakdown of red blood cells, low platelet count, and general weakness are all signs that can indicate the presence of lupus.

Treating SLE in Cats

Treatment for SLE in cats may require hospitalization, especially during hemolytic crises (red blood cell destruction). However, outpatient management is often possible if the condition is not severe. The type and level of care will depend on the affected systems.

At home, it is important to ensure your cat gets plenty of rest, especially during episodes of severe joint pain. Consider providing a quiet space, possibly even a cozy cage, until your feline friend can move comfortably again. Additionally, limiting your cat’s exposure to bright sunlight, especially during peak hours, can help manage the disease. If the kidneys are affected, your veterinarian may recommend a kidney-specific protein-restricted diet.

Several medications can be used to treat SLE in cats, including immunosuppressive drugs to decrease the immune system response and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in the lymph nodes. The specific form of the disease in your cat will determine the medications prescribed.

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Preventing SLE in Cats

As SLE can be hereditary in certain breeds, it is highly recommended not to breed cats that have been diagnosed with the disease. By taking this proactive step, we can prevent passing on the condition to future generations and promote healthier feline populations.

Living and Managing SLE in Cats

SLE is a progressive and unpredictable disease in cats. Long-term immunosuppressive therapy is often necessary. Keep in mind that these treatments may come with side effects. As a responsible caregiver, it is essential to work closely with your veterinarian to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment and identify any severe side effects.

Remember, your cat’s well-being is our top priority. If you suspect any symptoms or have concerns about SLE, reach out to your veterinarian for guidance. Regular check-ups and open communication are key to ensuring your feline companion lives a happy and healthy life.

For more information about systemic autoimmune diseases in cats and how to provide the best care for your furry friend, visit Katten TrimSalon, your trusted resource for all things feline.