What is Septicemia and Bacteremia?
Septicemia warrants immediate veterinary attention. If left untreated, the condition may develop into septic shock, meningitis, pericarditis, osteomyelitis, or infectious arthritis, depending on the location. These conditions can develop rapidly, so you must take your cat to the vet as soon as you notice symptoms.
Septicemia (also known as sepsis) and bacteremia are related conditions that are associated with the presence of bacteria. Bacteremia simply refers to bacteria in the bloodstream. Septicemia is an illness that results from the presence of bacteria. Bacteremia is often a temporary condition and may occur as a result of certain procedures that make it easier for bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
Symptoms of Septicemia and Bacteremia in Cats
Cats affected by temporary bacteremia rarely present symptoms due to the nature of the condition. However, cats infected with septicemia will show symptoms which may be severe. Consult your vet immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Irregular heart rate
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Weakness or lethargy
- Confusion or disorientation
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
Other symptoms may be present depending on where the septicemia is located.
Causes of Septicemia and Bacteremia in Cats
Bacteremia may be caused during certain procedures in which bacteria enter the bloodstream. The intestines may also be responsible for causing temporary bacteremia, but the liver usually eradicates any bacteria present in the blood passing through it.
Septicemia, on the other hand, may develop for a number of reasons. These include the presence of an infection in another part of the body, a foreign object (particularly if left in place for a long period of time), and a suppressed immune system. If septicemia progresses and begins to affect the organs, the condition is then known as “severe septicemia”. In rare cases, infections that are not bacterial may also be a cause of septicemia.
Diagnosis of Septicemia and Bacteremia in Cats
Be sure to inform your vet of the extent and duration of your cat’s symptoms, any recent procedures your cat has undergone, and any medications they are taking. Your vet may also ask you for a complete medical history, so be prepared to provide this information.
Despite the risks associated with septicemia, the condition can be challenging to diagnose. Blood cultures are one diagnostic method, but results may take several days to receive. In addition, the bacteria responsible for septicemia may not appear at all in the cultures. The vet may perform other tests in addition to these, including x-rays, ultrasounds, and a blood chemistry profile.
Due to the severe nature of the condition, a tentative diagnosis based on presentation of symptoms as well as fluid analysis will be adequate to begin treatment. (The fluids analyzed may include urine, cerebrospinal fluid, or mucus from the lungs.)
Treatment of Septicemia and Bacteremia in Cats
Bacteremia does not usually require treatment. However, cats that have weakened immune systems or are prone to developing life-threatening infections may be prescribed an antibiotic regimen as a preventative measure before undergoing certain procedures.
Treatment of septicemia will begin immediately following the tentative diagnosis and usually involves a general antibiotic regimen. Chances of survival decline the longer the delay in antibiotic treatment. Your vet may prescribe two or three types of antibiotics at a time in order to fight the infection. Intravenous fluid and oxygen therapy may be required in some cases. In anemic cats affected by septicemia, a blood transfusion is usually also required.
During treatment, your vet will continuously monitor your cat’s condition, ensuring that blood and fluid levels are maintained. As soon as lab results become available, your vet may alter the antibiotic regimen in order to better fight the specific type of bacteria responsible for the septicemia. In severe cases in which the condition has progressed and affected the organs, surgery may be required.
Recovery of Septicemia and Bacteremia in Cats
Always follow your vet’s instructions carefully following treatment. It is imperative that you continue to administer antibiotics for the entire recommended duration of treatment even if the symptoms start to clear up. Failure to do so could result in aggressive recurrence, which may be life-threatening.
Depending on the severity of the condition, your cat may be kept in the hospital for 24 hours or more so that the vet can monitor its condition. After treatment, your cat may suffer from a loss of appetite. Your vet may prescribe nausea medications, dietary changes to promote eating, or may put a feeding tube in place.
Ensure that your cat has a warm, secure place to rest upon its return home. Check on your cat regularly; if you notice anything unusual, consult your vet immediately. Your vet may schedule a follow-up appointment following antibiotic treatment to ensure the condition has not recurred.