Feline Leukemia Virus
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a common disease among cats, affecting between 2 and 3 percent of the cat population in the United States. It impairs a cat’s immune system and can lead to serious complications, including lymphoma and leukemia. Kittens are more susceptible to FeLV infection, but adult cats can contract the virus.
FeLV is contracted through cat-to-cat transmissions, including bites, grooming, and sharing dishes or litter pans. An infected mother cat also can transmit the infection to her kittens at birth or through her milk. Outdoor cats are more likely to contract FeLV than indoor cats.
FeLV strains and symptoms
There are three different types of FeLV infection: FeLV-A, FeLV-B, and FeLV-C. Cats can carry any one, two, or all three strains.
FeLV-A: This strain is found in all cats infected with FeLV. It causes severe immunosuppression in the cat.
FeLV-B: This strain occurs in about half of all cats with an FeLV infection. It causes tumors and other abnormal tissue growth.
FeLV-C: This strain occurs in only about 1 percent of all FeLV-infected cats. It causes severe anemia in the cat.
There are many common symptoms among all three strains of FeLV, including:
- Progressive weight loss
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Persistent diarrhea
- Infections of the external ear and skin
- Poor coat condition
- Wobbly, uncoordinated movement
- Inflammation of the nose, the cornea, or the moist tissues of the eye
- Inflammation of the gums and/or mouth tissues
Diagnosis and treatment
In order to properly diagnose FeLV, a complete blood workup must be done in order to determine if your cat has anemia or other blood disorders. FeLV can be difficult to definitively diagnose, but diagnosis is done through blood testing.
Infected cats must stay indoors, kept away from risk of any secondary infections that could worsen the pet’s condition. FeLV infection does not normally require hospitalization, unless your cat suffers from severe secondary infections, a low red blood cell count, or excessive weight loss that results in a loss of muscle. In extreme cases, emergency treatment, such as blood transfusion, is required.
The best way to prevent FeLV infection is to limit exposure to potentially infected cats. This means keeping cats indoors, and quarantining infected cats from healthy ones. Prior to bringing a new cat into your household, have it tested for FeLV infection. Healthy cats should be vaccinated against FeLV at 9 to 10 weeks old, then again a month later. Vaccinated cats should receive annual boosters of the FeLV vaccine after the initial round.
If you suspect your cat has been infected with the FeLV virus, or you want to introduce a new furry friend into your household, contact us at Falls Road Veterinary Hospital for all your FeLV testing and vaccination needs. It is our goal to keep your pets safe, happy, and healthy!