What do I need to know about Feline Leukemia?
What is Feline Leukemia (FeLV)?
This is a serious disease in cats, caused by a virus infection. It’s also a complex disease, of which leukemia (cancer of white blood cells) and cancerous tumors are only a small part. Various other related but non-tumorous diseases are also involved.
What other diseases are a part of the complex?
They include anemia, atrophy of the thymus gland, ulcers of the mouth, skin lesions, reproductive problems such as miscarriages and weak or dying kittens (fading kitten syndrome), chronic digestive and respiratory problems, and others.
Why are so many problems involved?
The feline leukemia virus impairs the cat’s immune system similar to the way the AIDS virus affects humans. As a result, cats lose their ability to fight the bacteria, viruses and fungi which cause these disease problems.
Is your cat at risk?
- Does your cat live in a multi-cat household?
- Does your cat go outdoors?
- Has your cat ever fought with other cats?
- Has another cat in your house ever tested positive for FeLV or FIV?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, your cat is at risk for FeLV.
How could my cat get the disease?
Feline leukemia is spread by direct contact with infected cats. It’s usually transmitted in the saliva, but low levels of virus can also be found in urine and feces. Licking, biting and sneezing are common forms of transmission. Food and water dishes and litter boxes are likely sources of infections, if healthy cats share them with infected cats.
My cat never comes in contact with other cats. Is it still possible to get the disease?
It’s not likely, unless it was born to an infected queen. However, if your cat accidentally escapes, or boarded, or unexpectedly comes in contact with another cat, the risk of exposure to the virus increases dramatically.
If my cat has been in contact with other cats, how can I know whether it has been exposed to the virus?
The only sure way is to have our pet tested by your veterinarian. Because such a complex of disease problems and symptoms is involved, it’s not easy to spot the disease by how your cat looks or acts. However, certain signs–such as long-lasting infections, unexplained weight loss, reduced appetite, swollen glands, or gum problems–should alert you to a health problem that warrants a closer look by your veterinarian and possible FeLV testing.
Why should I test my cat?
Without testing, there is no way to know whether your cat is infected. Without a diagnosis, your cat cannot be treated properly. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends that all at-risk cats, sick cats and kittens should be tested. If you do not know the status for your cats, it may carry and possibly spread the disease to other cats. Not only can you help your cat live a happy, healthy life, but you can also help stop the spread of this deadly disease.
If my cat tests positive for FeLV, what should I expect? Do some animals survive the disease?
FeLV is manageable if detected early. Early detection of infection will enable you to manage the disease, maintain the health of your cats, and will also help prevent the spread of infection to other cats. With proper care, infected cats can live long and healthy lives.
Once a cat has been infected with feline leukemia virus, there are three possible outcomes:
- About 40% develop an immunity and become resistant to future infections.
- About 30% become “latent carriers” of the disease, neither fully recovered nor seriously affected. They may be susceptible to the disease at some future time, and, if reactivated, they can pass on the virus to their offspring.
- The remaining 30% of exposed cats are persistently infected and, of these, about 83% die within three years of the time of infection from leukemia and/or the associated diseases. Death can be sudden or lingering and painful.
You and your veterinarian can develop a plan that includes:
- Semiannual wellness visits
- A balanced, nutritional diet
- Watching for signs of other illnesses
- Spaying/Neutering of adults
- Maintaining your cat’s vaccination program
Is there any way to predict which of the three groups a cat will fall into?
Unfortunately, not at the present time.
What should I do to prevent my cats from getting the disease in the first place?
The most obvious is to limit or eliminate all contact with other cats. This however, isn’t always possible or practical. The best solution is to see your veterinarian and have your cat or cats vaccinated with the most effective and safe vaccine available.
If my cat gets infected with feline leukemia virus, can I get infected too?
No evidence currently links FeLV in cats with any known human disease problems.
Ask us about how to protect your cat with Fel-O-Vax Lv-K
Tests show that Fel-O-Vax Lv-K provides better protection than other FeLV vaccines. It requires only two easy injections three weeks apart to provide maximum protection for healthy cats 10 weeks of age or older. Then, all you need is one annual booster shot to keep your cat protected.
The majority of cats show no adverse response to feline leukemia vaccination. However, some cats will develop a temporary fever, listlessness or reduction of appetite. When they occur, these responses normally disappear in 24-48 hours. In the unlikely event that your cat develops other symptoms after vaccination, you should discuss these with your veterinarian.