You may be aware that in recent weeks there have been a growing number of cases of feline pancytopenia. To date, the concern has centred on certain types of cat food. Understandably, it is causing some worry to pet owners. So what’s going on?

What is feline pancytopenia?

Pancytopenia is the term we use to describe a reduction in all the important cell types within the blood, including the red and white blood cells. This is very serious, because of the roles of the affected cells. Red blood cells are needed to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight infection. Alongside these, platelets (little cell fragments in the blood) are crucial to the clotting system.

Cats with pancytopenia can quickly become severely anaemic (because the red blood cell level is too low), susceptible to infection (owing to low white blood cell numbers) and have problems with blood clotting or unusual bleeding (because of inadequate platelets). The signs of the condition can be very vague in the beginning. Often with a cat just being more lethargic than usual, or not wanting to eat. Although, in some cases, there will be obvious bruising of the skin or bleeding that doesn’t stem easily, or blood in the urine or faeces. 

It’s not a common condition, so this spike in cases is unusual. As such, it hints to there being an underlying cause that’s come about recently, potentially a type of toxicity.

What do we know about the cause?

Vets have been investigating these cases to look for a link that might give us a clue as to the underlying cause. To date, the common thread between affected cats seems to be their diet. Now, this does not definitively mean that the pet foods are the cause, but, until we have more information, the Food Standards Agency has taken the sensible step of recalling a number of seemingly associated pet foods

What do I do if my cat has been eating one of these foods?

Don’t panic. Stop feeding this food, and contact your vet for some advice. If your cat appears well, then you may need to do nothing other than keep an eye on him. If you are concerned or if your cat has any associated signs, then a blood test can be done to check for any alterations that may indicate they’ve been affected. We would definitely recommend this blood test if the cat is in the same house as one already diagnosed with feline pancytopenia.  

You should also contact the supplier that you bought the pet food from to organise its return. A number of different brands are affected, so contacting the supplier rather than the manufacturer in the first instance is the best approach.

Can feline pancytopenia be treated?

Feline pancytopenia can be challenging to treat, particularly in these sorts of cases where we don’t know what the underlying cause is. The treatment is generally supportive. Providing blood transfusions where needed, antibiotic cover and other medications to help support the body.

Unfortunately, some cats do not survive. But we hope that early identification of affected cats and appropriate treatment may help improve their prognosis. 

What is being done to investigate this problem?

Aside from the FSA’s food recall, the Royal Veterinary College is undertaking investigations into these cases of feline pancytopenia. They have generated a survey for veterinarians to provide information about any cases they’re seeing or have seen. This will build up a database from which further investigations can be performed. 

We understand that this is a worrying time for pet owners. But try to stay calm, keep up to date with the situation, and contact your veterinarian for further advice if you are concerned about your cat.  

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