Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis (NI)/Hemolytic Icterus

Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis (NI), also known as Hemolytic Icterus, is a condition that affects newborn kittens and can be life-threatening if not promptly diagnosed and treated. This condition occurs when the mother cat has antibodies against her own kittens’ blood type, leading to the destruction of the kittens’ red blood cells.

The most common cause of NI in cats is blood type incompatibility between the mother and her kittens.

During pregnancy, the mother cat’s immune system could become sensitized to the fetal blood cells if they have a different blood type. This can happen when the mother cat is exposed to small amounts of fetal blood during birth or through contact with amniotic fluid. The mother’s immune system produces antibodies against her kittens’ blood type, specifically targeting the red blood cells.

The antibodies that are produced by the mother cat’s immune system can cross the placenta and enter the bloodstream of the developing kittens. Once born, these antibodies will recognize and attack the kittens’ red blood cells, leading to their destruction and causing hemolytic anemia.

Symptoms of Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis

Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis can have various symptoms in affected newborn kittens. It’s important for cat owners and breeders to be aware of these signs to promptly get veterinary attention. Some common symptoms of NI include:

  • Weakness and Lethargy: Affected kittens will appear weak and lethargic, with reduced activity levels.
  • Pale or yellowish gums: This is due to their red blood cells being destroyed, leading to anemia and jaundice.
  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing: Anemia can cause respiratory distress in affected kittens.
  • Poor appetite or refusal to nurse: Kittens with NI might have difficulty nursing due to weakness and lethargy

Diagnosing Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis

A cat being examined by a veterinarian.

Diagnosing Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis involves a combination of clinical signs, physical examination, and laboratory testing. It’s important to consult a veterinarian if you think that a kitten might have this condition.

The veterinarian will begin by taking a detailed history from the owner or breeder, including information about the mother cat’s blood type and any previous litters that may have been affected by NI. A physical examination will be performed to assess the kitten’s overall health and condition.

Laboratory testing is crucial for confirming a diagnosing Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis. This may include a complete blood count (CBC) to assess for anemia and evaluate the red blood cell levels, as well as a blood typing test to determine the blood type of the mother cat and her kittens. A Coomb’s test might also be performed, which detects the presence of antibodies on the surface of red blood cells.

Stage of Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis

Neonatal Isoerythrolysis can progress through various stages, each with its own set of symptoms and complications. It’s important to understand these stages to better manage and treat affected kittens.

Initial Stage

The initial stage of Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis is associated with red blood cells being destroyed, leading to anemia. Symptoms during this stage can include weakness, lethargy, pale or yellowish gums, rapid breathing, and poor appetite or refusing to nurse.

Acute Stage

A female veterinarian examining a cat with a stethoscope.

In the acute stage, the red blood cells being destroyed continue to worsen, leading to more severe symptoms and complications. Kittens will likely have a sudden decline in their overall health, with worsening anemia and jaundice. They can become extremely weak, have difficulty breathing, and have signs of organ damage.

Critical Stage

The critical stage is the most severe stage of Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis. At this point, the kittens will have a life-threatening condition. They will have signs of organ failure, such as kidney or liver dysfunction. Treatment during this stage is crucial to prevent further complications and save the kitten’s life.

Recovery Stage

If treatment is initiated promptly and effectively, some kittens could enter the recovery stage. During this stage, the destruction of the red blood cells will begin to decrease, and the kitten’s condition gradually improves. They should regain their strength, appetite, and normal breathing patterns. It’s important to continue monitoring their situation and giving them the necessary medical care during this stage to ensure a complete recovery.

Treating Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis

Treating Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis requires prompt and aggressive intervention to improve the kitten’s condition and increase their chances of survival. The specific treatment plan will depend on the severity of the disease and the overall health of the affected kitten.

A woman is examining a cat with a stethoscope.
  • Blood Transfusion: In severe cases with significant anemia, a blood transfusion will be necessary to replenish the kitten’s red blood cell count and improve oxygen delivery to their tissues.
  • Intravenous Fluids: Kittens with Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis (NI)/Hemolytic Icterus might need intravenous fluids to maintain hydration and support organ function.
  • Medications: Medications such as immunosuppressive drugs or corticosteroids may be used to suppress the immune response and decrease their red blood cell destruction.
  • Plasma Transfusion: In cases where the kitten’s blood type is incompatible with the mother cat’s antibodies, a plasma transfusion could be performed to remove the antibodies from the kitten’s bloodstream.
  • Supportive Care: Kittens with Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis (NI)/Hemolytic Icterus will need supportive care, including warmth and comfort, regular feeding and monitoring their vital signs.

Preventing Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis

Preventing Neonatal Isoerythrolysis involves identifying the blood type of both the mother cat and potential breeding partners. It’s essential to avoid mating cats with incompatible blood types to prevent the production of antibodies that can cause NI in kittens.

The blood type of a cat can be determined through a simple blood test. It’s recommended to screen all cats before breeding to ensure compatibility. If an incompatible mating does occur, it’s crucial to monitor the newborn kittens closely for signs of Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis (NI)/Hemolytic Icterus and get veterinary intervention immediately if any symptoms arise.

In cases where a mother cat has previously produced kittens with Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis, it’s important to avoid breeding her again to prevent the recurrence of the disease.