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What is Weak Immune System?

A weak immune system in cats, as well as other species, is caused by a deficiency in a type of white blood cell called phagocytes.  These phagocyte cells are an essential part of the immune system, as they engulf foreign invaders contaminating the blood, a process known in the veterinary world as phagocytosis. A deficiency in phagocytosis caused by an infection or an abnormally low number of phagocyte cells present at birth can cause a feline to become especially susceptible to infections of the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems and infections of the skin.

The immune system is your cat’s defense against parasites, viruses, and bacteria of the outside world. When this line of defense is weak or becomes weakened, a feline is more susceptible to developing life-threatening illnesses.

Symptoms of Weak Immune System in Cats

A feline with a weak immune system is healthy overall for the first months of life, but as the feline stops nursing the supply of antibodies disappear and it becomes progressively susceptible to bodily infections. Noted symptoms of weakened immune system in cats include:

  • Continuously becoming ill 
  • Recurrent infections or infections that fail to respond to conventional treatment
  • Stunted growth
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Poor hair coat
  • Symptoms related to the cause of weak immune system (feline parvovirus, feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus)
  • Symptoms caused by a contracted infection (bacterial, viral or parasitical)

Causes of Weak Immune System in Cats

A weak immune system can either be a congenital disorder that the cat was born with or the immune system can become weakened due to conditions that are known to attack the infection fighting white blood cells, phagocytes. 

Congenital Weak Immune System in Cats

A cat born with an immunodeficiency disorder has an abnormally low number of phagocytes and will have difficulty fighting disease, leading to life-threatening situations. There is no cure for immunodeficiency disorder.

Viral Weak Immune System in Cats

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

Feline immunodeficiency virus attacks the immune system, causing low red and white blood cell counts. Spread from one feline to another through biting, the cat may not show signs of the infection for months or even years after contracting the virus. FIV infects a cat for life, leading to a deteriorated immune system. 

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)

FeLV is a worldwide, retrovirus that despite use of vaccines, is still the number one cause of death among cats. FeLV severely suppresses the immune system, leading to conditions such as intestinal inflammation, reproductive disorders, immune-mediated disease, anemia and cancer. 

Feline parvovirus (FPV)

Parvovirus is a severe immune-depressing, viral infection that usually infects a feline short-term. Parvovirus attacks the lymphocytes and neutrophils portion of the white blood cell population, making a feline susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections. 

Diagnosis of Weak Immune System in Cats

The diagnosis of a weak immune system in your cat will begin with a review of your feline’s medical history. Your veterinarian will review his or her medical file, but any historical data you possess should be shared with the doctor to pinpoint when the problem began, symptoms, and possible causes. After the veterinarian exchanges notes with you, he or she may proceed to conduct the following:

  • A physical examination
  • Complete blood count (CBC): a test in which the number of blood cells in a single blood sample are counted to determine the total number of cells. 
  • Urinalysis: an examination of the urine. 
  • Biochemistry profile: a test that measures the components of blood, providing an overview of most bodily functions. 

Additional diagnostic testing may be completed based on the findings of previous tests. 

Treatment of Weak Immune System in Cats

Congenital weak immune system in cats has no treatment or cure, and viral associated weak immune system in cats is often not caught early enough to effectively treat the condition. Therefore, no effective treatment has been found to cure weak immune system in cats, but supportive care and prevention have been known to effectively lengthen a feline’s life. 

Your veterinarian may provide treatment for secondary conditions that comes with congenital and viral related weak immune system conditions. 

  • Antibiotics to fight bacterial infections
  • Antimicrobial medications to fight fungal/yeast infections
  • Chemotherapy 

Recovery of Weak Immune System in Cats

The key to keeping your cat healthy when he or she has a weak immune system is prevention. Isolating your cat from other felines and animals, as well as preventing her from leaving the home is often the first rule of thumb when it comes to weak immune system management. Your veterinarian will advise you to be on the dot with vaccinations and may advise your cat to have additional vaccinations you may not usually ask for. As secondary infections are quite common in cats with depressed immune systems, you can expect your cat to visit the veterinarian often and go through various courses of prescribed medical treatment.

Veterinarians often advise breeders and owners of felines with known immune deficiency conditions to withhold from reproductive practices. Weak immune system conditions can be passed onto future generations if infected cats are allowed to breed. 

Weak Immune System Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Turkish Angora
1 Year
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Eyes watering

When my kitty Elsa came to live with me, shortly after she got a kitty cold. At the vet she got eye drops with antibiotics. I hoped the kitty colds weren’t a recurring thing that the vet said it might be. But when I took her on a flight for Christmas, she got a cold in FL. I got the same drops, but this one lasted a week so she got an antibiotic shot, she got better and that lasted for the flight back too. I recently took her to a friends house to live for 2 weeks while I was away on work. She got a small version of a cold and did not require vet assistance. This, however, gave the 3 other cats at my friend’s house kitty colds whom have never been sick. - does my cat get stressed with traveling or new environments? How can I help boost her immune system before traveling?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2499 Recommendations
Stress is a big factor when looking at the immune system, but there is no hard and fast method of boosting a cat’s immune system although there are many products online which claim to do so; I have no specific scientific evidence from a reputable source to suggest any particular method. L-Lysine has anecdotally been used during respiratory tract infections, but again its efficacy is up for debate. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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no breed
2 half years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms


hi my cat is 2 half year old about a year and a half ago i brought casper to the vet with a cough my vet was treating casper then she said he might have asthma to get a test done on him.i went to another vet who is brillant with casper and sayed it was trachealis and gave him a injection and a booster for his immune system because i tought he was always run down which worked very well plus the vet gave me a course of tables for him to.his mammy was a stray cat which she had 5 kitten which i took 2 kitten.coco fine but casper always being sick.so he in the vet now because his third eye half close over.the vet has him in for the last 3 days she said his immune very run down.i asked her to do test on him for aids in cats or cancer test im a very worried mammy could you please help me

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2499 Recommendations
There are a few different causes of immunodeficiency in cats (mainly infectious causes) which can be difficult to manage; keeping a cat calm and limiting stress it helpful as well as keeping them indoors to prevent outdoor infections. Otherwise, the underlying cause of the weakened immune system would need to be managed (if possible) itself. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/immune-disorders-of-cats/immune-deficiency-diseases-in-cats

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