What is 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 it may have a combination of thrombocytopenia (low number of platelets), anaemia (low number of red blood cells) and leukopenia (low number of white blood cells). This causes impaired blood clotting ability, reduced oxygen delivery to the tissues, and a high risk of secondary infections respectively.
Drugs, toxins, infectious diseases, immune-mediated and primary bone marrow disorders are some of the causes of feline pancytopenia described in the literature. 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. Some food companies recently recalled specific diets due to concerns that this could be implicated; for more details please click here.
Most cats with this condition are young cats, coming from either single or multi-cat households; they are equally indoor or outdoor and, in many cases, more than one cat from the same household will be affected.
What are the clinical signs of this new feline pancytopenia?
The clinical signs are variable and depend on the stage of the disease at presentation. These may include lethargy and weakness, fever, pale gums, bruising and increased respiratory rate and heart rate. Many cats present with bleeding from the nose, or bleeding into their oral cavity, gastrointestinal tract or lungs. Most cats will develop these symptoms acutely, usually within few days.
How is this disease diagnosed?
The presence of pancytopenia can be confirmed with a simple blood test. However, other than the high suspicion based on the severe, acute presenting signs, the new ‘novel’ Feline Pancytopenia can only be diagnosed by ruling out other possible causes of bone marrow suppression. Diseases mimicking this new condition, are 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 have to be carried out once your cat has been admitted to hospital.
What is the treatment?
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment available yet, and for the moment, we treat these cats supportively, with antibiotics, intravenous fluids and anti-inflammatory drugs. Most of these cats require at least one blood transfusion.
What is the prognosis?
The prognosis is unfortunately grave with a mortality rate (death rate) based on the current data of >90%. 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. We would also recommend that you stop feeding the current batch of food or diets that were recently recalled.