Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation in Cats

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Key takeaways

Disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC, is a severe, life-threatening condition where blood clots develop within blood vessels throughout the body.

  • As the disease progresses, the amount of available clotting components decreases, preventing formation of blood clots entirely
  • DIC only occurs secondary to other serious underlying conditions, such as lymphoma, feline infectious peritonitis, and hepatic lipidosis
  • Cats with DIC may show symptoms of severe, uncontrollable bleeding or red spots on the gums during the late phase of disease, however many cats show no symptoms of DIC
  • Diagnostics focuses on confirming DIC and identifying the underlying cause through blood work, diagnostic imaging, and a physical examination
  • Treatment targets the underlying condition, supported by additional fluid therapy, blood transfusions and supplemental oxygen
  • Prognosis is guarded even with treatment
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A closer look: Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation in Cats


Blood clotting is a process where the blood thickens at points of injury, stopping leakage from damaged blood vessels to prevent excessive blood loss. In cases of DIC, small blood clots form throughout the bloodstream, using up the building blocks (platelets and blood clotting proteins) of clots, which prevents normal clotting. As the condition progresses, abnormal bleeding develops as the body is no longer able to clot normally to support regular wear and tear on blood vessels.

DIC is always secondary to another condition, meaning an existing illness precedes the development of DIC. Development of DIC concurrently with an existing condition signals severe disease progression and prognosis even with treatment of both DIC and the underlying predisposing condition is grave.

Cats presenting with severe bleeding, or red spots on the gums require emergency intervention.

Risk factors


DIC is an uncommon condition which only develops alongside other serious medical conditions.

Cats in advanced stages of disease, particularly diseases associated with the organs and systems involved in maintaining blood composition and function, are at risk of developing DIC.

Possible causes


DIC results from severe disease that results in formation of small blood clots throughout the body. These blood clots can cause serious damage to tissues, as they block blood flow to organs. As DIC progresses, the amount of available blood clotting components decreases, eventually preventing formation of blood clots. During this phase of the disease, cats develop spontaneous bleeding or bleeding that does not stop, as the body is unable to form clots appropriately.

Main symptoms


In cats, DIC typically shows few symptoms.

Testing and diagnosis


Diagnostics aim to confirm a diagnosis of DIC, as well as identify the underlying cause leading to the condition.

Diagnostics include:

  • Physical examination
  • Bloodwork, including measuring clotting times
  • Urinalysis
  • Diagnostic imaging, such as ultrasound or X-ray

Steps to Recovery


Treatment of DIC primarily focuses on supportive care, including fluid therapy, supportive oxygen, and blood or plasma transfusions. Further treatment targets the conditions which lead to DIC, depending on the underlying cause identified. These vary, and may include:

  • Medications, such as antibiotics
  • Surgery
  • Dietary/nutritional support
  • Chemotherapy

DIC develops alongside severe conditions which often have serious health risks. Prognosis for DIC is guarded overall.

Prevention


Cats diagnosed with conditions which may lead to DIC benefit from regular veterinary check ups during recovery, so as to have the best chance of early DIC detection.

DIC is not contagious.

Is Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation in Cats common?


DIC is uncommon in cats.

Typical Treatment


  • Supportive fluid therapy
  • Blood or plasma transfusions
  • Supportive oxygen

References


Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Julien Guillaumin, DVM, DACVECC, DECVECC - Writing for
Susan M. Cotter, DVM, DACVIM - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
Susan M. Cotter, DVM, DACVIM - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual

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