Feline Leukemia Questions and Answers

Cats can seem almost indestructible, or at least aloof, in the face of common health threats. However, a disease called feline leukemia virus (FeLV) can bring such illusions crashing down. FeLV represents the second leading cause of premature death in cats. Fortunately we can help you safeguard your feline against this virus.

Every cat owner should understand the basic facts about feline leukemia virus, from its causes and risk factors to smart preventative care options. The following questions and answers should help you give your cat a longer, healthier life.

How Do Cats Get Feline Leukemia Virus?

Like many other viruses, feline leukemia virus passes from one animal to another through bodily fluids such as urine, feces, milk, and saliva. Unlike some other viruses, however, FeLV can only harm cats, not other mammals. Scratches from fights, grooming, and breastfeeding can all transmit the virus.

Cats three months of age and younger fall prey to FeLV more easily than adult cats. Unvaccinated adults can also contract the disease, although age seems to boost natural resistance against it. Multi-cat households and other environments where multiple cats interact (such as boarding facilities) present higher infection risks.

What Symptoms Point to Feline Leukemia Virus?

Feline leukemia virus can produce external, internal, and behavioral symptoms. Watch for yellowing of the eyes or mouth, pale or ulcerated gums, swollen lymph nodes, unexplained weight loss, and poor coat quality. Breathing problems, diarrhea, fever, and lethargy also characterize FeLV.

FeLV can create complications that can become worrisome.  Cats infected with the virus may go on to develop lymph gland cancer or become sexually sterile. They can also suffer from kidney disease and anemia. FeLV can impair the immune system, making your cat more vulnerable to other kinds of germs.

Cats with feline leukemia virus may display any of four stages of infection. A cat’s own immune system is able to successfully ward off abortive infections. In regressive infections, only a tiny degree of the virus remains. Latent infections lie dormant but may reactivate. Progressive infections lead to chronic illness.

How Can Your Veterinarian Help?

Some feline leukemia virus symptoms can mimic those of other common cat diseases. If you think your cat is showing signs of FeLV, see your vet right away for a proper diagnosis. Your veterinarian will conduct two types of tests, one to check for early signs of the disease and one to identify it in its later stages.

Many cats infected with FeLV will clear the virus on their own within a few months. However, the rest will continue to struggle with the disease as a chronic condition. Veterinarians can only manage later-stage FeLV by treating complications such as secondary infections. Your vet will also recommend the sterilization of an infected cat.

How Can Cats Avoid Feline Leukemia?

Vaccination against feline leukemia can prove highly effective. Your veterinarian will administer this vaccination to your kitten along with other core (essential) vaccinations. Although solitary indoor adult cats don’t need this vaccination, adult felines who come into frequent contact with other cats should receive it.

Even if your cat hasn’t had the FeLV vaccination, you can help protect it against exposure to the virus simply by keeping it away from unvaccinated animals. If your cat does interact with a friend’s or neighbor’s cat, make sure the other cat has had the vaccination. However, you’ll need to vaccinate your cat if you plan to board it.

Prevention counts for much in the battle against feline leukemia virus. If you want to protect your cat against this common, potentially deadly ailment, contact 1st Pet Veterinary Centers for an appointment. Our team can provide FeLV vaccinations and treatment for FeLV-related problems to preserve your cat’s quality of life. We are always here to help in whatever way we can.