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Home > Cats > Autoimmune Diseases in Cats: Vet-Reviewed Types, Signs & Treatment

Autoimmune Diseases in Cats: Vet-Reviewed Types, Signs & Treatment

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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When you bring home your new pet cat, it becomes your responsibility to deal with any health concerns they might face. But just because you know it’s possible for them to get sick doesn’t mean you always expect that your cat can develop ongoing health issues.

If you have been concerned about some of your cat’s symptoms, you’re in the right place. We’ll go over several areas in which you might detect autoimmune diseases. However, the information we provide is in no way a substitute for veterinary guidance and examination. Always check with your vet if you suspect an autoimmune issue, or you just sense something is off with your cat.


The 3 Types of Autoimmune Disease in Cats

An autoimmune disease is a health issue that causes your cat’s body to attack its own healthy cells. It can affect almost every aspect of the body, presenting with different signs and requiring specific treatments.

1. Musculoskeletal

Musculoskeletal autoimmune diseases are those that attack the muscles, joints, and tendons.

Musculoskeletal Autoimmune Diseases in Cats:
  • Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Signs: Lethargy, leg lameness, muscle pain, wasting, disposition of soft tissue in joints
  • Causes: While specific causes aren’t fully understood, it’s likely linked to genetic or environmental factors.
  • Treatment: Because this autoimmune disease type causes severe joint pain, making sure your cat is comfortable at home is paramount. You might also need to change their diet if their kidneys are affected—plus, give them supplements like glucosamine for joint support.
  • Recovery: While musculoskeletal autoimmune disease in cats is incurable, proper treatment can minimize signs and give your cat a quality life.

2. Exocrine (Skin)

Exocrine autoimmune diseases are those that affect the skin. If your cat is symptomatic, your vet will likely perform a biopsy of the affected area for further examination.

Skin Autoimmune Diseases Seen in Cats:
  • Pemphigus complex
  • Bullous Pemphigoid
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
  • Discoid Lupus Erythematosus
  • Signs: Skin irritation, welts, ulcers, fever
  • Causes: While specific causes aren’t fully understood, it’s likely linked to genetic or environmental factors.
  • Treatment: Immunosuppression is the likely treatment of a skin autoimmune disease in cats. Your veterinarian will select a treatment plan that works best for your feline.
  • Recovery: While potentially life-threatening if untreated, exocrine autoimmune diseases can be managed. These diseases are rarely, if ever, curable. They require constant monitoring, diagnostic testing, and case-specific treatment.

3. Renal

sick and thin cat
Image by: Benchamaporn Kanlapungha, Shutterstock

Renal autoimmune disease directly affects your cat’s kidneys. To diagnose this disease, your cat would need a kidney biopsy. However, sometimes a urine sample is sufficient for detection.

Renal Autoimmune Diseases in Cats:
  • Renal disease due to lupus erythematosus or discoid lupus
  • Signs: Blood in urine, weight loss, decreased muscle mass, ascites, swelling
  • Causes: Lupus erythematosus or discoid lupus
  • Treatment: Treatment often depends on the underlying cause of the problem, but most often, immunosuppression, supplementation, and diet changes occur.
  • Recovery: The prognosis of the disease varies from case to case since it is so reliant on underlying issues. While your cat will need constant monitoring, they should live comfortably, permitting the right treatment is in place.


Living with Autoimmune Diseases in Cats

Most of the time, caring for a cat with an autoimmune disease isn’t as hard as you think. There will always need to be adjustments made, and treatment will vary depending on the issue.

Autoimmune disease can influence diet and lifestyle—so you might have to make many changes initially. Depending on the price you’re paying for supplements, meals, medications, and more, it can be quite the budget adjustment.

If you are struggling to keep up with the continual costs associated with care, take a look at our tips for caring for an ill cat on a budget.

sick cat with IV
Image by: Vladimir Gudvin, Shutterstock

Look for Lower cost, but Quality Care Vetting

Once your cat develops an ongoing health issue, your current vet might have astronomical rates you can’t or don’t want to afford regularly. Sure, a set of shots here and there are fine, but this vet might have treatment costs that are simply unaffordable.

Ask your veterinarian about discounts on the cost of care or medications. If you have to shop around for rates, you can mull over your options before committing to a treatment plan at your current practice.

Many privately-owned vet companies offer competitive rates, and you can find some terrific health care. Also, shelters and rescues do offer many vet health services to people for lower costs. If you look around at local facilities, you might be able to land a more economical option.

Autoship Prescription Options

If you have products that you’ll need to order continually for the management treatment of your cat’s disease. You won’t have to shop all the time or forget about it when it’s already set up for you.  Plus, you usually can get a discount when you sign up for auto-renew subscriptions on sites like Amazon and Chewy.

Health Insurance

With more focus on pet healthcare in recent years, pet insurance is growing in popularity. Now more than ever, more companies are hopping on board to offer owners competitive plans.

You can find a pet insurance plan that works best for you by looking at available options. Some companies that offer comprehensive plans for cats include:

  • APSCA Pet Insurance
  • Healthy Paws Pet Insurance
  • Nationwide Pet Insurance
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Image by: Ekaterina Minaeva, Shutterstock

Animal Surrender

Sometimes, these issues pop up at the worst moments when you’re just not ready mentally or financially. As much as you try to juggle the cost of living with pet care, specific autoimmune disease treatments may incur expenses you simply can’t take on.

When this happens, you will face a pretty tough choice. When falling on hard times, shelters and rescues have plenty of resources to potentially help you with pet care. But for the wellbeing of your animal, you might have to consider animal surrender.

Sometimes, you might be able to find a foster that could take the animal until you are in better financial standing. Other times, you might have to give up your cat to ensure they get proper medical care.

This circumstance is rare. If you have the means to care for your pet, you should always choose that route. Remember, autoimmune diseases are highly treatable in most cases. Exhaust every avenue before considering animal surrender.



Finding out your cat has an autoimmune disease will definitely change the course of things. But it doesn’t have to be such a stressor, as you can get an effective diagnosis and treatment depending on your cat’s unique and very individual case.

If you suspect your cat has an autoimmune disease, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Featured Image Credit: Anna Nikonorova, Shutterstock

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