Feline Leukemia Virus - FeLV

 

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What is FeLV? 

FeLV is a virus that suppresses a cat's immune system, leaving the cat unable to fight off infections.  This not only results in feline leukemia but in various types of cancer and other chronic diseases.  It is the leading cause of death from infectious agents in cats.

Not all cats who are infected actually contract any illness.  About one third of cats are infected briefly and then the virus is eliminated and no FeLV related disorders develop.  One third of the cats infected can't eliminate the virus but do not usually develop FeLV related diseases, however, they do become carriers of the disease and can pass it to other cats.  The remaining third of infected cats go on to develop full blown FeLV related diseases which eventually ends in death.  

How does my cat get it?

FeLV is found in a cat's saliva, urine and other body fluids and is typically passed from cat to cat by direct contact, including mutual grooming, biting and sneezing.  It is also passed to kittens through their mother's milk.  Rarely, it can be transmitted from feeding dishes, or sharing a litter box.

Is my cat at Risk?

There are certain risk factors which increase your cat's chances of contracting the virus.  Cats who go outdoors are at greater risk along with cats who live in multi-cat households, especially if these cats go outside.  Male cats are more likely to become infected than female cats and younger cats are more susceptible to infection than older cats.  The virus is usually contracted in cats between the ages of 1 and 6 years old.  Stray cats and kittens of infected mothers are also at an increased risk. 

What are the symptoms?

Since FeLV may lead to various diseases symptoms may vary considerably.  Cats can be infected for a long period of time before they show any signs of disease. Some signs or symptoms your cat may exhibit include fever, loss of appetite, depression, anemia, swollen glands in the neck or abdomen, difficulty breathing, or difficulty swallowing and eating.  If your cat is prone to chronic or recurrent infections FeLV may be the cause. 

How is it Diagnosed and Treated?

There are 2 different blood tests your veterinarian can perform to diagnosis FeLV.  The first test is ELISA (Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) a screening tool used to detect antigens in the bloodstream.  ELISA can also be used to detect the virus in saliva and tears but is not as reliable as bloodstream detection.  The second test is IFA (Immunoflourescence assay) This test detects FeLV antigens in the white blood cells of a cat. 

Unfortunately there is no cure for FeLV and all treatment measures are aimed at relieving symptoms.  Some of the treatments used include antibiotics to treat secondary infections, blood transfusions, chemotherapy to treat tumors, dietary supplements and parasite control. 

There are certain measures you should take if you are dealing with an FeLV infected cat.  First, keep your cat indoors to reduce the risk of your cat contracting secondary infections and to also prevent your cat from infecting others.  Second, feed your cat nutritionally complete and balanced diet.  Also, closely monitor your cat's health and behavior and alert your vet to any changes immediately.  It is also recommended that an infected cat does not live with any non-infected cats in order to prevent the spread of the disease. 

How can I protect my cat?

There are certain preventative measures you can take to protect your cat against FeLV.  Prevention is very important when dealing with FeLV since there is no cure.  First you should ask your vet about vaccinating your cat against FeLV.  Secondly, keep your cat indoors at all times if possible.  This will greatly reduce your cat's risk of exposure to the virus.  Third, have any new cat you plan on bringing into your household tested for FeLV before you bring him home.  The new cat must test negative for the virus with 2 successive tests before coming in contact with other healthy cats.  Fourth, don't crowd too many cats into one household, since cats in multi-cat household have an increased risk of for FeLV.  Finally, keep infected cats away from healthy non-infected cats.