What is Immunotherapy?
A cat's immune system provides a line of defense against hostile diseases and contaminants, targeting pathogens for destruction and removing them from the body before they can cause significant levels of damage. However, on some occasions the immune system can malfunction and cause unwanted symptoms in response to a stimulus, or simply not detect a disease at all, letting it run amok in the body. To prevent this from happening, a vet may administer certain drugs to a cat that can 'train' the immune system to respond in the proper manner to the specified stimulus. This 'immunotherapy' can provide a way to improve an animal's quality of life and allow them to target previously undetected diseases. Note that any modification of the immune system (including vaccines) can be called immunotherapy, but the techniques used to fight active conditions fall within a very select grouping.
Immunotherapy Procedure in Cats
The exact methodology of delivering the immunotherapy treatment will differ from condition to condition, though most techniques will usually require a time period of several weeks (if not months) of continuous therapy in order to yield a lasting effect. In the case of an allergy, the vet will expose the animal to a series of slightly-increasing dosages of the substance that provokes the immune response. In this manner, they can gradually acclimatize the body to the material and the immune system will no longer produce as strong a reaction. In a similar manner, ever-decreasing dosages of antihistamines (drugs that suppress various immune responses and allergy symptoms) may be used in conjunction with exposure to the substance. Reactions to parasite infestations can also be dealt with by using antihistamines, as the body can gradually become accustomed to their presence as time goes on. There are several ways in which immunotherapy can be used to fight cancer, including the immune checkpoint inhibitors discussed above and the laboratory formulation of enzymes and antibodies (which the cat's body can replicate in some cases) developed specifically to target cancerous cells. All of these treatments are usually delivered via a series of injections, as it is the fastest way in which to deliver substances into the cat's body.
Efficacy of Immunotherapy in Cats
The average initial course of treatment will last for up to six months, with the cat's immune response beginning to show more signs of progress as more time has elapsed. Immune checkpoint inhibitors and new antibodies will have much faster results, as they provoke an immediate change in the function of the cat's immune system. In some cases, the effects of the immunotherapy will be permanent, allowing the cat to endure exposure to allergens or parasites without triggering a disproportionate response from the immune system. Although, most cats will require additional maintenance treatment every six months or so in order to maintain the effectiveness of the treatment. Cancers, however, may need additional treatment in order to be fully eradicated, and if they resurface could require an entirely new course of therapy to treat.
Immunotherapy Recovery in Cats
Given the non-intrusive nature of immunotherapy treatment, there is very little recovery time required after the procedure has been completed. That said, the vet may, in certain circumstances, wish to keep the cat in the clinic for observation, as some treatments may have delayed side effects. Regular follow-up sessions will be required after the first appointment in order for the vet to both monitor the cat's progress and to administer the rest of the treatment. Some cats can expect to be in the clinic several times a week if their owner is unable to administer the treatment themselves.
Cost of Immunotherapy in Cats
Given the wide assortment of immunotherapy methods available, there is a large variation in terms of the price of treatment. The majority of owners can expect to pay between $100 and $300 per month for treatments dealing with allergens and parasites, as the requisite drugs are relatively simple to source. Immunotherapy dealing with cancers, however, can cost over $700 a month, depending on the exact type of cancer being dealt with. This is due to the fact that the substances injected into the cat will have to be specially formulated based on the individual animal's requirements.
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Cat Immunotherapy Considerations
Though immunotherapy can be a very effective way to provide a non-invasive and long-term solution for potentially debilitating maladies, the practice does carry with it a small degree of risk. The main factor that may give owners pause is the chance of temporarily compromising the immune system's ability to fight off other dangers. Generally speaking, this is only a risk presented by the introduction of lab-grown antibodies into the cat to fight cancer, as some animals may go on to present symptoms of digestive discomfort or a slight flu. Whilst the danger presented by this is negligible, owners of especially weak or elderly cats should consult thoroughly with their vet before embarking on this course of treatment.
Immunotherapy Prevention in Cats
Unfortunately, the majority of cancers found in modern house cats are hereditary in nature, making it almost impossible to predict their appearance without knowledge of the animal's lineage. Because of this, the vet may possibly recommend sterilizing the cat to prevent them from passing on the illness to subsequent generations. Many allergies (such as those caused by pollen or other animals) can be avoided by allowing the cat to explore the outdoors from an early age, letting it get accustomed to being exposed to such substances on a regular basis. Parasites and their associated problems, meanwhile, can be avoided by providing the cat with a clean living area, as this will not just cut down on the amount of dirt and waste material that the organisms can hide amongst, but will also reduce the chances of a bacterial infection occurring.