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Septic Shock in Cats

Posted April 07, 2014 in Cat Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Up close shot of a cat's face

Sepsis, an overwhelming infection in the body, results in severe inflammation. Untreated it results in severe sepsis, which can cause multi-organ failure (e.g., acute kidney failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome, liver failure). When severe sepsis overwhelms the body, it results in septic shock. Even with aggressive treatment, septic shock can be fatal in dogs and cats; reported mortality ranges in dogs and cats from 20% to 68%.

While we all know that cats differ tremendously from dogs, this is especially key when it comes to septic shock. Cats demonstrate very different clinical signs of septic shock so it’s important to recognize the clinical signs immediately (see below). The sooner you recognize the subtle signs, the sooner septic shock can be treated and the better the prognosis.

Causes of septic shock in cats
Common causes for septic shock in cats include:

  • Ruptured intestines (typically from intestinal cancer or a linear foreign body obstruction secondary to ingested string)
  • Pyothorax (a pus infection in the chest cavity)
  • Kidney infection (pyelonephritis)
  • Severely infected wound (e.g., abscess or bite wound)
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)

Rare causes for septic shock in cats include:

  • Severe dental disease resulting in a blood infection (called bacteremia)
  • Uterine infection in intact females (pyometra)
  • Pneumonia
  • Ruptured organs (e.g., a ruptured bladder secondary to bladder stones or a ruptured gall bladder secondary to gall bladder stones)

Symptoms of septic shock
Unfortunately, cats often don’t show signs until a moderate to advanced disease state. In cats, signs of septic shock include:

  • Not eating
  • Complete Anorexia
  • Hiding
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Pale pink gums
  • Dehydration
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Straining to urinate or defecate
  • Collapse
  • Excessive licking of the rear end
  • A foul odor from the rear end
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Fever
  • A distended abdomen
  • Death, even with treatment

On physical examination your veterinarian may detect additional signs such as:

  • Dehydration
  • Poor femoral pulses (indicating a very low blood pressure)
  • Fever or hypothermia
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • A slower heart rate (this is very different than dogs, where sepsis typically causes an elevated heart rate)
  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal fluid in the abdomen

Testing for septic shock in cats
Unfortunately, the clinical work up for septic shock can be expensive as it requires an aggressive workup (including certain diagnostics). These include:

  • Complete blood count (looking at the white and red blood cells and platelets)
  • Chemistry (looking at the kidney and liver function, protein, blood

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.