Feline Leukemia Virus
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a disease that impairs the cat’s immune system and causes certain types of cancer. Males are more likely to contract the infection than females, and it is usually seen between the ages of one to six years old.
Symptoms of the Feline Leukemia
Feline leukemia is usually contracted from cat-to-cat transmissions, such as bites, close contact, grooming, and sharing dishes or litter pans. It can also be transmitted to a kitten at birth or through the mother’s milk. Kittens are much more susceptible to the virus, as are males and cats that have outdoor access. There are three different types of infection: FeLV-A, FeLV-B, and FeLV-C. Cats can carry one, two or all three types.
- Occurs in all cats infected with FeLV. It severely weakens the immune system (immunosuppression).
- Occurs in about 50 percent of FeLV-infected cats, and causes tumors and other abnormal tissue growths.
- The least common type, occurring in about 1 percent of FeLV-infected cats. It causes severe anemia
The Feline Leukemia virus types do have common symptoms. These include:
- Progressive weight loss
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Persistent diarrhea
- Infections of the external ear and skin and poor coat condition
- Fever (seen in about 50 percent of cases)
- Wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken-appearing gait or movement
- Inflammation of the nose, the cornea, or the moist tissues of the eye
- Inflammation of the gums and/or mouth tissues
- Lymphoma (the most common FeLV-associated cancer)
- Fibrosarcomas (cancer that develops from fibrous tissue)
Diagnosis & Treatment
A complete blood count is done to determine if the cat has anemia or other blood disorders. Diagnosis of feline leukemia can be difficult and is made by blood testing.
For treatment, your cat will need to stay indoor only, away from any risk of secondary infections. No treatment is required if asymptomatic. Your cat will not be hospitalized unless it has severe secondary infections, low red-blood cell count or extreme weight loss with muscle loss. In these cases, it will be kept under hospital care until its condition stabilizes. Emergency treatment, such as blood transfusions, is sometimes needed.
Keeping infected cats separated (and quarantining them) is the only way to prevent feline leukemia in healthy cats. There are several commercial FeLV vaccines for the disease available and recommended for any cat that goes outdoors. However, test the cat before initial vaccination, as it may already be infected.
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