It’s Lupus: The Auto-Immune Disorder That Can Easily Be Mistaken For Other Disorders In Cats

Determining if your cat is ill (and why) is difficult all on its own, since many cats don’t show that they’re in pain. But if your cat is suffering from lupus, it may be even more difficult, since this disease can be easily mistaken for other illnesses with similar symptoms. If your cat is struggling to walk, seems weak or oddly inactive, know these could be some of the early symptoms of the auto-immune disorder lupus. Read on to learn more about lupus, its symptoms and what you can do to help your cat if she has the disease.


Lupus is an auto-immune disorder that can ultimately be described as the auto-immune system going wrong. Your cat’s auto-immune system is designed to attack invading bodies like bacteria and viruses to protect the healthy cells of the body. However, sometimes the immune response goes wrong and the auto-immune system mistakes healthy cells as invading bodies and attacks them accordingly.

Unfortunately, scientists aren’t entirely sure what triggers the immune system to go wrong, and no cure exists. Some cat breeds are more likely to be diagnosed with lupus, like Siamese and Himalayan cats.


In cats, two types of lupus exist: discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), the limited form, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the more severe form. DLE is a type of lupus that’s limited soley to the cat’s skin; SLE, which is unfortunately more common, can affect the entire body.


DLE lupus may cause the following symptoms:

  • Skin Discoloration – The affected skin may lose its pigment, appearing paler, or it may become reddened and inflamed.
  • Skin Texture Changes – Affected skin may develop rashes, sores, scales, or become rough and irritated.

SLE lupus has a wider variety of symptoms, including:

  • Joint & Muscle Problems – Your cat may have difficulty walking and moving due to stiff or swollen joints, muscles, and pain.
  • Blood Problems – Cats may become anemic, with lower white and red blood cell counts. With less blood, your cat may struggle to breathe or may become winded easily.
  • Immune Response – You may notice signs of an increased immune system response, like fever and swollen lymph nodes.


A vet like those at Coble Animal Hospital will listen to what you have to say about your cat’s symptoms and then perform a physical exam to see if their symptoms match with those of lupus. If they feel that there’s a chance that it’s lupus, your vet will take blood labs to look for anti-nuclear antibodies, which helps to determine that your cat is suffering from an auto-immune disorder.


Treatment for the two varieties of lupus are nearly the same, although it should be noted that DLE’s limited effect on your cat’s body means it may only need temporary treatment.

Both forms of lupus are generally treated with anti-inflammatory painkillers like NSAIDs and steroids to reduce inflammation and auto-immune response. Antibiotics may be prescribed if sores or other skin problems have become infected.

Cats who have been diagnosed with SLE lupus will need life-long treatment to keep their symptoms controlled and to prevent the immune system from causing permanent damage to the body.

Whether a cat is suffering from the DLE or SLE form of lupus, treatment options exist to make her life as pain-free as possible and to reduce inflammation and physical damage caused by the immune system.

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