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Old 07-21-2009, 05:12 PM
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Default Re: Autoimmune disorder in cats - advice needed!

taken from

medical advice from two kitty cats and their mummy:

My cat has autoimmune disease; what can I do to help?

Dear Sinéad and Siouxsie,
My kitten, Phantom, has been suffering from sores on one of his back feet. I took him to the vet and he was put on antibiotics, but those didn't work and the sores spread to his other back foot. So I took Phantom back to the vet, who kept him overnight and gave him some cortisone shots to bring the swelling down. I just got Phantom back from the vet today, and the vet told me he thinks Phantom has autoimmune disease. He put Phantom on all sorts of medications and said he might have to come back for more cortisone shots later. I have two questions for you.
First, they took blood from him, and when I got him home I noticed his neck was shaved. Do they take it from the neck? This seemed odd to me that his neck was shaved, since it's his two BACK FEET that are hurt.
Also, the vet said autoimmune disease is rare for a cat but that's what it appears he has. I know nothing about autoimmune disease, so any info you could give me on that I would soooo greatly appreciate it.
Phantom's Mommy

Sinéad: Oh, Phantom, you poor little bipkie. What a horrible thing to have to go through as a teeny tiny little kitten!

Siouxsie: We wish we could be there licking and grooming you and helping you feel better, but we figure that helping your mama help you get better is the next best thing we could do.

Sinéad: First of all, we'll give you a tiny bit of info about the immune system. The immune system is the body's defense against germs and other invaders. Normally, the immune system works just fine and kills germs before they make you sick. But sometimes, the immune system gets sick.

Siouxsie: There are two ways the immune system gets sick. First, sometimes the immune system gets too weak to fight off germs. This happens when cats get FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) or FeLV (feline leukemia virus). These viruses hurt the white blood cells, which are our germ fighting cells, and make the body unable to fend off infections and cancers.

Sinéad: Another way the immune system gets sick is that it forgets what it's supposed to fight off and starts overreacting to normal materials in the environment or starts attacking the body's own natural cells. This is what's called autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are things like allergies, skin rashes, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.

Siouxsie: That sounds pretty yucky, huh?

JaneA: Many vets will prescribe a bunch of different medications for autoimmune disease problems that mask the symptoms of the disease, including cortisone shots to reduce the swelling, antibiotics to fight off infections, and possibly medicine for pain. But there are many other vets who say this is the worst thing you can do for a cat with autoimmune system disease. By masking the surface symptoms of the problem, they say, you are only driving the disease into deeper body systems and producing worse problems down the road.

Sinéad: Oh, Blessed Bast! Poor little Phantom . . . We've got to do something for him. We don't want him to get really, really sick! Mama, there's got to be something Phantom's mama can do to help him. Please?

JaneA: Actually, there is something that can help. First, you have to know that many reputable veterinarians are noticing that autoimmune disease in on the rise in cats (and dogs, too, by the way). Many of these vets have noticed that there's a correlation between the increase in autoimmune disease and the increase in the number of vaccinations our animal companions are getting. In other words, overvaccination is increasingly seen as a key cause of immune system problems in animals (and human children, too, by the way!).

Siouxsie: I always knew there was a good reason I hate Shots!

JaneA: I don't like Shots, either, Siouxsie. And I try to make sure you and Sinéad get as few Shots as possible. The three-in-one type vaccines are seen as the worst culprits. I found an interesting article on cat vaccinations at, which certainly provides food for thought on the benefits and risks of vaccinations. Believe me, I'm not saying you shouldn't immunize your cats! I'm saying, be aware of the benefits and risks, talk with your veterinarian, and get informed about vaccinations and issues around them.

Sinéad: Yes, please do get informed. It's very important. I know that whenever I get Shots, I get sick for days afterwards, and I hate it! But Mama helps me feel better by giving me herbs and things that make me stronger.

JaneA: Also, cats are very sensitive to stress and to chemicals in the environment. Their immune systems are much more easily triggered than ours. So if they're eating low-grade commercial cat food with lots of preservatives and artificial colors, if there are chemical air fresheners, exhaust, cigarette smoke, carpet cleaners, smelly cat litter, and the like, it can cause cats' immune systems to be overloaded, and autoimmune disease can result. So if you have a cat that suffers from autoimmune disease, keep the chemical burden in your environment to an absolute minimum. Throw away those plug-in air fresheners. Use natural carpet cleaner/deodorizers like plain baking soda. Don't smoke indoors--I stopped smoking inside because Sinéad and Siouxsie sneezed and coughed whenever I lit up. Use odor-free cat litter. Put your cat's food in glass or ceramic dishes rather than plastic ones. Use "free and clear" laundry detergents and avoid smelly fabric softeners and dryer sheets. Avoid chemical bug sprays and flea preventatives whenever possible.

Siouxsie: We're lucky our mama has always been good about that stuff. She doesn't like stinky stuff in her house, either. And we're glad Mama doesn't smoke inside anymore, even though we wish she'd stop smoking entirely! I mean, really! Who wants to inhale burning leaf smoke? What's that about?

JaneA: Hey, at least I don't eat live rodents and lick my butt! But that brings up another suggestion. If your cat suffers from autoimmune disease, it's crucial that you feed your cat the highest possible quality food. You may even consider making your own cat food. If you make your own food, don't do it on your own. You have to be extra careful about making sure your cat's nutritional needs are met if you're making cat food. There's a great book, Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, that has lots of good natural recipes specifically designed to meet cats' nutritional needs. Dr. Pitcairn is not just a veterinarian; he's a well-respected veterinary immunologist and practitioner of alternative health care for animals. I highly recommend this book to you, Phantom's Mommy. Not only does it have the recipes, but it has good information on alternative health care methods that can help Phantom get healthier.

Sinéad: Yeah. We like the recipes in Dr. Pitcairn's book! Except for the egg one.

Siouxsie: We hate eggs!

Sinéad: They're cold and slimy and yucky, and we won't eat them!
JaneA: I know, I know. Have I tried to feed you eggs since the Egg Recipe Experiment? And that was six years ago. Jeez, you guys really know how to hold a grudge.

Siouxsie: Oh, come on, Mama. We're sorry. We know it was a mistake. How were you to know that we hate eggs?

Sinéad: And it's true, you haven't tried to feed us eggs since then.

JaneA: Another important thing for you to do, Phantom's Mommy, is to get a second opinion about Phantom's treatment. It sounds like your vet is going really drug-heavy, and I'm concerned that all those drugs are going to do more to hurt Phantom than help him in the long run. I'd highly recommend finding an alternative practitioner--a veterinary homeopath, herbalist, or naturopath--who can help you use natural foods and remedies to strengthen Phantom's immune system and undo the damage from the drugs he's already gotten. I don't know where you live, or if there are any alternative vets in your area. But I urge you to find one if at all possible. If not, get Dr. Pitcairn's book and a copy of The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier, read them through, and learn how to use their methods of diet, homeopathy, etc., to support and supplement the veterinary care Phantom is already getting. If you can only afford one of these books, go with Dr. Pitcairn first. Herbalist Juliet de Barclay-Levi also wrote a good book on herbal medicine and nutrition for dogs and cats, but I'd classify that book as more "advanced" reading, while Pitcairn is a good place to start.

Siouxsie: Even I can read Pitcairn's book. And it has nice pictures, too.

JaneA: Definitely find out if your current vet is sympathetic to the "less is more" philosophy of drug use and how he feels about alternative health care and natural diets. If he pooh-poohs you, I recommend you find another vet. In the meantime, I'll give you some websites where I found articles about autoimmune disease in cats:
The article I mentioned above article on allergies and autoimmune disease
A good article on Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, another type of immune system disorder
An article on Autoimmune Disease in Dogs (this article has a good synopsis of how the immune system works, which will be helpful for cat people, too)
A story of one cat's experience with immune system disease and Interferon as a treatment (beware the annoying MIDI file that auto-plays when you open the page!)
The LiveJournal community PetCare could be a good resource for you, too. There are at least a couple of vets who are members of this community.
Oh, and about the blood drawing? Usually the vet draws blood from the forearm of a cat, but since Phantom is so tiny, they may have had to draw blood from his neck to get a vein big enough to poke.
Good luck, and all the best to you and Phantom. Please let me know if there's anything else I can do to help.

Sinéad: Me too!

Siouxsie: Me too, too!

Sinéad: Since we've just had a huge, long discussion about how chemicals are bad for cats, it only seems logical that we should include a letter from another reader regarding last week's tip for using dryer sheets to get extra fur off your kitty.

Got a question? Need some advice? E-mail Sinéad and Siouxsie at None of the advice in this column is meant to be a substitute for regular veterinary care.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated ~ Mahatma Gandhi
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