Signs of Sepsis (Blood Poisoning) in Cats

Cat sepsis or septicemia, sometimes called blood poisoning, is a serious and often fatal condition in cats. Sepsis happens when bacteria invade the blood, causing widespread infection and inflammation. Here are the signs and symptoms of sepsis in cats.

Sepsis (septicemia) in a cat usually follows an inflammation or infection. Before sepsis sets in, the cat may show symptoms of infection, including:

  • dull eyes
  • dull fur
  • lethargy
  • sitting in a hunched position for a long period of time
  • sleeping more than usual
  • loss of appetite
  • aversion to being touched
  • fever
  • difficulty breathing
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • a visible abscess, or a wound with pus forming

Ongoing infection or inflammation can cause an overgrowth of gram-negative bacteria, such as Enterobacteriaceae or salmonella. When bacteria enters the bloodstream of the cat, it causes bacteremia.

Bacteremia and Septicemia

While the terms are often used interchangeably, bacteremia and septicemia aren’t the same thing. Bacteremia is the term for bacteria in the blood, often called blood poisoning. Bacteremia may or may not lead to sepsis.

Sepsis or septicemia refers to the widespread infection and illness caused by overgrowth of bacteria in the blood.

Causes of Sepsis in Cats

Certain medical conditions can lead to feline sepsis. In cats, the most common causes of sepsis are:

  • pyothorax – infection of the chest cavity (24%)

  • septic peritonitis – inflammation of the peritoneum, or inner lining of the abdomen and other organs (14%)

  • endocarditis - inflammation of the endocardium, or inner lining of the heart (14%)

  • pyelonephritis – kidney infection (7%)

  • osteomyelitis – infection of the bones and bone marrow (3%)

  • pyometra – infection of the uterus in female cats (3%)

  • bite wounds (3%)

Sepsis can kill a cat. Take the cat to a vet immediately if the cat shows signs of sepsis or blood poisoning.

Symptoms of Sepsis in Cats

Symptoms of sepsis or septicemia in cats include:

  • severe lethargy and weakness

  • disorientation

  • fever
  • pale mucous membranes

  • hyperthermia (early sign) or hypothermia (later sign)

  • signs of diffuse pain when the abdomen is palpitated

  • weak pulse

  • heart palpitations

  • tachypnea (rapid breathing and heartbeat)

  • bradycardia (slow breathing and heartbeat)

  • icterus (jaundice – indicated by yellowing of the skin, ears, or whites of the eyes)

  • organ dysfunction

  • shock (life-threatening low blood pressure)

Treatment of Sepsis in Cats

Sepsis has a high mortality rate in cats, and immediate medical treatment is essential. Treatment of sepsis in cats involves

  • IV fluids

  • antimicrobial therapy

  • anti-endotoxin drugs, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and Polymixin B

Cats with weakened immune systems, diabetes or liver or kidney dysfunction are at higher risk for sepsis and for infections in general. Outdoor cats are more likely to develop infections and complications of infection than indoor cats.

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