Feline Leukemia Virus

Feline Leukemia Virus

There are many infections and parasites to which cats are susceptible. Among the most serious of these are the various feline viruses. Feline leukemia virus, or FeLV, is a common feline virus present in cat populations around the world. In fact, FeLV is associated with a higher degree if disease and death in cats than any other condition (Lowe).

How Is Feline Leukemia Virus Spread?

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, about two to 3% of American cats are infected with FeLV. The leukemia virus is shed in the saliva and nose discharges of infected cats. The virus is relatively unstable and cannot live outside of an infected cat for more than a few hours in a dry environment. It is spread from cat to cat through shared food and water bowls and close contact like grooming. FeLV can be transmitted from a mother cat to her kittens in utero, through mother-kitten contact, or through her milk. Cat bites are another source of infection. Kittens are especially susceptible to contracting FeLV. After four months of age, natural resistance develops in many cats. Adults are relatively resistant to infection with FeLV.

What Happens If Cats Get Feline Leukemia?

When a cat first contracts FeLV, they are termed "viremic." This means that there is virus in the cat's bloodstream. The viremic stage may progress to:

Cats with persistent FeLV infection may develop any of three major disease syndromes:

Diagnosis of Feline Leukemia Virus

Testing for FeLV is somewhat complex. It is important to remember that not all tests are 100% accurate under all conditions. Here are some important facts about FeLV tests as outlined by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (Richards, 2008).

Treatment of Feline Leukemia Virus

At this time, there is no cure for FeLV infection. Although some therapies may help alleviate clinical signs or in some cases produce temporary remission of infections, they are not permanent cures. The disease is usually eventually fatal. Sadly, 85% of cats with FeLV infection die within three years of the diagnosis.

Medications may allow the infected cat to continue life in a healthy state for weeks to months. Some veterinarians may prescribe certain antiviral drugs or immune system modulators normally intended for humans. These may provide some clinical improvement for a while. Never give any medication to your cat unless specifically prescribed by a veterinarian.

Advances are continually being made in the diagnosis and management of FeLV. For the latest information, it's always best to consult with your veterinarian.

How Can FeLV Infection Be Prevented?

Definitive information on the diagnosis and management of FeLV can be found on the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) website.

Although scientific research may eventually uncover a cure for this disease, preventing infection is the best way to protect your cat. The following measures are recommended:

Although FeLV vaccines are effective, it is important to remember that they do not give 100% protection against infection in all cats. At-risk kittens can be vaccinated at around nine weeks of age, with a booster given in three weeks, and then given at an interval dictated by the lifestyle and risk of exposure of the cat. Vaccination will not protect a cat that has already been infected with the virus.

Works Cited

  1. Lowe, A. (n.d.). Feline Leukemia Virus. Retrieved from catvets.com: How can the veterinarian diagnose this disease?
  2. Richards, D. J. (2008). 2008 AAFP Feline Retrovirus Management. Retrieved from catvets.com.

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