What is FeLV?
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) not only causes leukemia (blood cell cancer), as its name implies. This virus is in fact responsible for various manifestations of disease.
FeLV is a retrovirus that, much like FIV, may damage the cat’s immune system and lead to a multitude of serious and often fatal medical conditions. In fact, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), FeLV is associated with the death of more cats than any other pathologic condition.
Not all cats that are exposed to FeLV are infected. Of those infected, about a third will gain full recovery within weeks and will not be further affected; another third will become carriers of FeLV, but may remain in this state for many years; and only one-third will immediately get the active form of the disease.
Who’s at Risk?
FeLV can be transmitted between cats via body fluids. Blood, saliva, mucus, urine, and feces can all be a source of infection.
Cats that come in contact with other cats that are FeLV positive (whether carriers or sick) may contract the disease through mutual grooming, bites, and even sharing feeding bowls or litter trays.
FeLV is more common among cats living in multiple cat households, but cats that are allowed to free roam outside may come in contact with FeLV positive cats and are therefore also at risk.
Symptoms of FeLV
Clinical signs are extremely diverse but include fever, lethargy, poor appetite, weight loss, anemia, jaundice, diarrhea or constipation, enlarged lymph nodes, respiratory distress, and excessive drinking and urination.
Since FeLV damages the cat’s immune system, severe, chronic illness may also indicate FeLV. Cancer, in the form of lymphoma or leukemia (cancer of blood cells), occurs in some FeLV-infected cats.
Diagnosis can be made using either of two tests –
- The Elisa test is a rapid screening test for FeLV. It can be performed in the vet’s clinic using a saliva sample.
- The IFA test is a lab test that detects the virus in a blood sample.
Since FeLV usually has more than one stage, it is sometimes necessary to have both tests performed.
Treatment of FeLV
Unfortunately there is no cure for FeLV. Infected cats are treated according to their specific symptoms. Proper care of secondary infections may help to extend the cat’s life span and improve its general well being.
Prevention of FeLV
There are several FeLV vaccinations available that can enhance the cat’s ability to fight off any future FeLV infections, but they do not ensure total prevention. It is important to take the necessary precautions against FeLV even if your cat is vaccinated.
Some safety measures against FeLV:
- Vaccinate your cat against FeLV. This vaccine is as safe as any other common vaccine for cats.
- Do not overcrowd cats in one household. Overcrowding cats increases their risk of exposure to FeLV. It also increases stress levels for the cats and makes them more susceptible to disease.
- Be careful when introducing a new cat into your household. Make sure that the cat is FeLV negative before letting it join your other healthy cats. The cat must be tested for FeLV twice in the space of several weeks. During that time it must be quarantined.
- Keep your cats indoors at all times. Cats should be let outside only under your direct supervision. You should make sure they avoid contact with other cats.
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