Severe feline pancytopenia: how to spot the signs
Feline pancytopenia is a very rare condition where the number of blood cells (red, white and platelets) rapidly decrease, causing serious illness in cats.
Although it is extremely uncommon, cats diagnosed with pancytopenia have a very high mortality rate. Due to an as yet unknown cause, there has been a rise in cases of feline pancytopenia in 2021.
What is feline pancytopenia?
Pancytopenia is a laboratory finding in which the cells derived from the bone marrow are reduced in number. When a cat is affected with pancytopenia, they might have a combination of thrombocytopenia (low number of platelets), anaemia (low number of red blood cells) and leukopenia (low number of white blood cells).
Pancytopenia can cause impaired blood clotting ability, reduced oxygen delivery to the tissues, and a high risk of secondary infections.
What causes severe feline pancytopenia?
Feline pancytopenia can be caused by lots of different factors including drugs, toxins, infectious diseases, immune-mediated and primary bone marrow disorders.
However, the cause of the new severe, acute form of feline pancytopenia has not yet been identified. Current research has narrowed down possible causes into either toxic or viral/infectious disease and research is ongoing.
What are the symptoms of severe feline pancytopenia?
The signs and symptoms of severe feline pancytopenia vary and depend on the stage of the disease.
Symptoms of pancytopenia include:
- Sluggishness & weakness
- Pale gums
- Increased heart rate
- Bleeding from the mouth or nose
- Blood in the urine (known as hematuria)
- Spitting up of blood (known as hemoptysis)
- Black, tarry stools (known as melena)
How is severe feline pancytopenia diagnosed?
The presence of pancytopenia can be confirmed with a simple blood test. However, other than the high suspicion based on the severe signs and symptoms, the new ‘novel’ feline pancytopenia can only be diagnosed by ruling out other possible causes of bone marrow suppression.
There are several other diseases that have similar symptoms to the new pancytopenia condition, including various infections, cancers, other known intoxications, and vitamin deficiencies.
To confirm the “novel” feline pancytopenia, all these diseases must be excluded. Therefore, a set of blood tests, scans and bone marrow analysis must be carried out once your cat has been admitted to hospital.
What is the treatment for severe feline pancytopenia?
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment available yet. Currently, cats are treated supportively with antibiotics, intravenous fluids and anti-inflammatory drugs. Most of these cats require at least one blood transfusion.
Since the cause is still unknown, if you have another cat in the household, it is recommended that you remove any new cleaning product, food, medication, toy, air freshener or similar novelty introduced in your home recently.
Want advice on feline pancytopenia?
For expert advice on feline pancytopenia, get in touch with your local vet. Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page.