The Feline Immune System

The feline immune system is, like your own, complex and powerful. It is also, like your own, sometimes subject to failure.

The feline immune system is your cat's first line of defense against disease. It is similar in function to that of other mammals, such as humans.

Comprised of a complex network of specialized cells, tissues, and organs, it is designed to defend your cat against attacks by "foreign" invaders. Since these invaders are ever present in the environment, the condition of the immune system affects virtually every aspect of your cat's health and well being.

When functioning correctly, the feline immune system launches a potent army of defense mechanisms that fight off attacks on a regular basis. Your cat relies on this army to work together to recognize, subdue, and eliminate such dangerous agents as parasites, bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

A properly functioning immune system protects your cat from everything from allergies and arthritis, to infections and cancer. When it malfunctions, however, it can create debilitating conditions.

Your Cat's Life Preserver

Imagine for a moment, that the feline immune system didn't exist, and let's think about what would happen to our cat. Keep in mind that the environment around us is littered with organisms that would find a cat's body a perfect "host" in which to live.

Many of these organisms cause harm to the cat while they use the cat's body to survive. Without a working immune system, the cat's body would be quickly broken down and the cat would die.

To a lesser degree, this is similar to what happens to cats who are in some way immunodeficient. For example, a cat with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) might be overcome by an infection that a healthy cat would easily fight off.

Self limiting diseases, such as ringworm, which normally clear up on their own, may linger for long periods of time. With a weakened immune system, the cat simply cannot fight off all attackers, and succumbs to some "opportunistic" infection or disease.

Built in Intelligence

The feline immune system, like your own, is infinitely complex. And, like your own, possesses a certain kind of intelligence. For example, it can identify particular types of bacteria, and send just the right kind of cell to kill that bacteria. It can also distinguish between "self" and "nonself," destroying harmful bacteria or tumors, but leaving "good" tissue cells alone.

It also learns: it is able to recognize and remember previous experiences and react appropriately. This is the principle behind immunization.

Developing Immunity

Natural or innate immunity exists from birth. It is not specific to any one organism, and does not improve efficiency upon subsequent exposure to the same organism.

Acquired, or adaptive immunity occurs when an animal gets a particular disease, and the intelligence in the immune system will not allow reinfection upon subsequent exposure. This same principle occurs in people with diseases like chicken pox and the measles.

Immunity can also be transferred. In mammals, such as cats, cows, and humans, the milk produced in the first 24 to 48 hours after birth contains all of the immune "memory" of the mother. Through this milk, known as colostrum, immunity is passed from mother to newborn during the first feedings.

Immunity can be induced artificially as well, by using a vaccine. Vaccines force the body to react to a particular disease, thereby building immunity.

Immune System Failure

There are times when the feline immune system in your cat malfunctions, and one of several things can happen.

  1. The immune system under-attacks, and cannot destroy the invader.
  2. The immune system over-attacks, overtaxing itself, and producing inflammation. Over time, this can wear out the immune system.
  3. The immune system fails to distinguish between self and nonself, producing an allergic reaction, or autoimmune disease.

Research suggests that it is often the communication mechanism that causes a breakdown in the process. The inability to identify foreign invaders or altered cells, distinguish self from non-self, or turn off an attack results from poor communication within the immune system.

Taking drugs that boost or suppress the immune system can help with the immediate symptoms, but do not address what is really wrong. For example, an allergy can be treated with steroids or antihistamines. The symptoms may be reduced, but the allergy is still there. What an out of balance immune system really needs is to better communicate with itself.

In short, it needs to be re-balanced. There are a number of immune related diseases, including arthritis, and feline fiv which leads to feline AIDS.

Improving the Feline Immune System

According to those who embrace alternative treatments:

Recent advances in the research and development of nutritional supplements have paved the way for certain natural supplements that may re-balance the immune system of your pet.

Sometimes known as immune boosters, these dietary supplements are actually immunomodulators, or immune modulators. Typically, they are developed for human consumption, and then adapted for use in dogs, cats, and other animals.

The immune system of any animal has to know when to attack, what to attack, what components to use to attack, and when to stop the attack. All of the components of the immune system must be working and communicating properly in order to accomplish this.

These supplements work to balance or modulate the immune system so that it communicates correctly, and responds appropriately. This includes being able to properly recognize invaders as opposed to good tissue. It also includes not over-responding or under-responding to an invasion.

If your cat has an autoimmune disease, or is in some way immunodeficient, her feline immune system may benefit from being modulated. A deficient feline immune system isn't the only time to give your cat supplements, though... even an otherwise healthy cat may benefit from supplementation.

Other dietary supplements that even some mainstream vets recommend are probiotics and prebiotics for digestive health. Since the gut is a big part of your cat's immune system, a healthier gut should mean a healthier cat.

Some vets recommend giving your cat a little yogurt, but others recommend you buy probiotics for cats, such as Premo Probiotic for Cats (buy from Amazon).

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