Definition of Anaphylactic Shock
Anaphylactic shock is an exaggerated allergic reaction to a foreign substance, such as a drug, insect saliva or toxin, which a cat comes into contact with. That substance is called an “allergen.” In people, we usually think of anaphylaxis as being caused by bee stings. In companion animals, anaphylaxis can be caused by insect stings and also by many other, and happens within minutes of exposure to the offending allergen.
Preventing Anaphylactic Shock
The only way to prevent anaphylactic shock is to keep the cat away from the allergen that stimulates its immune system to become hyperactive and overreact. Of course, if the owner doesn’t know that her cat is allergic to a particular substance or item, this can be difficult at best. Once a cat does have an anaphylactic reaction, contact with the offending allergen will continue to cause the cat to have severe reactions in the future. Occasionally, anaphylactic shock happens on the very first exposure to an allergen. It is extremely important for owners to take their cat to a veterinarian immediately if they suspect that the animal may be going into anaphylactic shock. Without prompt and proper medical treatment, cats with anaphylactic reactions can deteriorate rapidly. Serious anaphylactic reactions can be fatal.
Symptoms of Anaphylactic Shock – What the Cat’s Owner Sees
Anaphylactic shock in cats is a true medical emergency that must be treated immediately to prevent probable death, which can occur within a matter of hours after exposure to the offending allergen. Owners of affected cats may notice one or more of the following signs if their cat is in or going into anaphylactic shock:
- Excitement, agitation or restlessness
- Severe inconsolable itchiness, especially around the head and neck
- Swelling around the head and neck
- Raised red areas (wheals) associated with the areas of itchiness or swelling
- Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
- Difficulty standing/rising
- Difficulty walking/moving
- Pale gums and other mucous membranes (abnormal pallor)
- Excessive salivation (often profuse)
- Changes in mental acuity or clarity
- Depression; appears to be moping or sedated
- Seizures, tremors, shaking, trembling
- Cardiovascular failure (fast or slow heart rate)
- Poor pulse quality (weak or thread pulses)
Most affected cats are between 6 and 24 months of age, although the reason for this age association is not well understood. Anaphylactic shock typically can be effectively treated with epinephrine injections and additional support, but these treatments must be given within a matter of minutes once the symptoms begin. It is a good idea for owners to have their local veterinary clinics and the shortest way to get to them mapped out ahead of time, so that they are well-prepared to get their bellowed companion to the hospital as quickly as possible for any type of potential medical emergency, including anaphylactic shock.
Intensive veterinary attention and hospitalization are almost always necessary to save the life of an animal in anaphylactic shock; this condition should not – and usually cannot – be successfully treated by owners at home. At the veterinary clinic, after a taking a preliminary history from the cat’s owner while performing a perfunctory physical once-over, the medical team will start a number of emergency treatments – even before any advanced diagnostic testing is done. Rapid supportive and medical treatment is the main and perhaps only thing that can help most cats survive from this potentially devastating condition.