Septicemia and Bacteremia in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Jul. 14, 2009

Bacterial Infection of the Blood (Sepsis) in Cats

Bacteremia and septicemia occur when the persistent presence of bacterial organisms in a cat's bloodstream becomes systemic, meaning that it has spread throughout the body. This is also referred to as blood poisoning, or septic fever. This condition becomes very dangerous when it leads to abnormally low blood pressure and high body temperature, and can be fatal if left untreated. In severe cases, when the condition has progressed to septic shock, treatment alone will not be enough to save an animal.

Symptoms and Types

There are several signs and symptoms of both septicemia (blood infection) and bacteremia in cats. Remember that septicemia and bacteremia are not the same thing, although they are similar, and are often used interchangeably.

  • Sepsis and bacteremia in cats may develop slowly or suddenly
  • Signs and symptoms may vary, or they may involve many different organ systems, including the cardiovascular system
  • Symptoms are often confused with the signs and symptoms of many other immune-regulated diseases
  • Clinical symptoms are often more severe when the organisms involved are gram-negative organisms. These types of organisms are more likely to cause diseases in a cat
  • Cats will usually develop symptoms in the respiratory tract first
  • Initial physical signs and symptoms typically include chills, fever, and lethargy
  • Depression symptoms are common
  • Tachycardia (rapid heart beat) and heart murmur are common


The causes for sepsis and bacteremia in cats are typically caused by pathogens, including gram negative bacteria from the family Enterobacteriaceae, and salmonella. Infections of these types often result in disease. Risk factors for the disease may include existing diabetes mellitus, or liver and kidney failure. Cats that have weakened immune systems, or those that have skin infections and urinary tract infections are also at risk. Any condition that lowers an animal’s immune system places it at risk for contraction of a bacterial disease.


A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. Before diagnosing your cat, your doctor will want to rule out other possible causes for illness. Diseases that cause similar symptoms may include immune-mediated diseases. Examples of these types of diseases can include autoimmune diseases like thyroidits or lupus.

Radiographic imaging may discover abscesses on the internal organs.


Successful treatment involves diagnosing the problem quickly enough to receive prompt treatment and aggressive intervention. It is important that the problem be addressed as soon as possible due to the possible severity of the condition. Low blood pressure is the most common complication of the disease. Other complications associated with this disease include low blood sugar and electrolyte imbalances. Infections are also common. Cats may be more prone to developing an abscess from an infected wound under the skin.

Nutritional support can dramatically improve the health of cats with sepsis and bacteremia. If your cat is not able to eat by itself it may be necessary to place an intravenous feeding tube until it has stabalized. Medications that may help improve the outcome include antibiotics, antimicrobials, and specialized antibiotics that work specifically on this type of infection (as opposed to routine antibiotics).

Living and Management

It is possible for complications to occur, and a high rate of mortality is associated with this condition. The primarily concerns associated with this are electrolyte imbalances, low blood pressure, and shock. It is extremely critical to seek prompt medical attention for your cat if you suspect any type of infection is imminent or present.

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