Understanding Your Cat’s Immune System

By: Champion Senior Veterinarian, Dr. Darcia Kostiuk, DVM

Support for a cat’s immune system starts with a complete and balanced cat food that provides them with optimal amounts of essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and fiber. 

Essential amino acids are most easily sourced from quality protein from animal sources, and they’re used as the building blocks for cats’ immune system to make antibodies, white blood cells, and immunoglobulins. These are the basic components to having a healthy immune system to fight off infectious diseases. 

In the process of making those immune system components, vitamins and minerals are instrumental in “making that cycle go” as they act as catalysts to different biochemical reactions. 

Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids also play an essential role in providing energy for different biochemical reactions. They also make up part of the cell membrane of those immune components such as in white blood cells, and they become part of different cells that play a role in the development of an animal’s inflammatory response. 

Cats can get upper respiratory infections from their fellow cats – essentially what we would call a cold. Usually, a cat can easily handle a mild infection and most often healthy adult cats do not even show any symptoms. However when a very young cat or a cat that is elderly or immunocompromised gets an upper respiratory infection, it can be very debilitating or even fatal. Much of the problem stems from the cat not having the ability to smell, and when a cat cannot smell, they will not eat. This can very quickly become a downward spiral.  Symptoms would include runny eyes and nose, thick, white colored eye discharge, sneezing, and difficulty breathing. If a kitten gets infected quite badly but recovers, they can have reoccurrences as an adult, and this is usually an indication of the cat being immunocompromised from that infection as a kitten. 

A kitten that fails to thrive or grow to their full adult size can be an indication of an immunocompromised animal, and there are several infectious viruses that can contribute to this.   Some common viruses would be calicivirus, feline infectious peritonitis, feline leukemia virus, and feline herpesvirus-1. Vaccinations for kittens help protect against several viruses such as rabies, feline leukemia, calicivirus, and feline parvovirus. It is extremely important to work closely with your veterinarian and have your kitten vaccinated in a timely manner. 

Dr. Darcia Kostiuk is the senior veterinarian behind ACANA pet foods. She has over 20 years of veterinary experience and is the proud pet parent of Max, Ruby, Jinxi and Ember.