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Feline Leukemia Virus

Cat Illnesses

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is one of the most important infectious diseases of cats worldwide. According to Webmd FeLV is second, only to trauma as the leading cause of death in cats.

How did my cat get infected?

Cat leukemia is usually contracted from cat-to-cat transmission. This will include close contact, grooming, bites, sharing litter trays and dishes.  It is also able to be transmitted to a kitten during birth or via the mother’s milk.

What is the symptoms of FeLV?

During the early stages of infection, it is common for cats to exhibit no signs of disease at all. However overtime your infected cat will start showing the following symptoms:

  • Anemia (Pale gums)
  • Lethargy
  • Progressive weight loss
  • Increased susceptibility to other common viruses.
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Skin and ear infections. especially resistant fungal infections.
  • Fever of unknown origin.
  • Wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken-appearing gait or movement
  • Generalized weakness.
  • Inflammation of the nose, the cornea, or the moist tissues of the eye
  • Chronic or recurrent gum and mouth infections
  • Cancer. Infected cats are especially prone developing lymphoma or fibrosarcoma.
How do you know your cat has FeLV?

If you suspect that your cat has FeLV, a veterinarian will conduct a full clinical examination. Based on their clinical findings they can run an in-house blood test to diagnose condition. After the diagnosis it is recommended that your veterinarian run a full blood panel. The panel will include a full blood count and a serum biochemistry profile. This is to detect early complications associated with the condition and to start with supportive treatment. If deemed necessary your veterinarian may also do x-rays, ultrasounds or other tests.

When to test for FeLV:
  • Before introducing a kitten to a new household.
  • Outdoor cats or housemates of outdoor cats should be FeLV-tested at least yearly.

  • Any cat that become clinically ill should be tested for FeLV immediately if it shares a household with an FeLV-infected cat.

  • Household cats that may have been exposed to other cats with unknown FeLV infection status should be immediately tested for FeLV and retested six weeks after exposure.
Treatment for FeLV:

If a cat is FeLV-positive but displaying no clinical signs, it should receive a physical examination at least twice a year. There is no cure for FeLV infection, and management is largely aimed at symptomatic and supportive therapy. At home you can feed a balanced nutritious diet, provide an antioxidant rich diet and monitor your cat closely for any signs of secondary diseases. If you notice any signs take him to the vet immediately. Immune modulator therapy such as interferon can be used to try and improve the immune system.

Prevention always better than cure:

Fortunately there is a vaccination against FeLV virus.

Which cats should be vaccinated for FeLV?

As a veterinarian I believe that ALL kittens and cats must receive the vaccination. The benefits outweighs the risk by far. I have seen in private practise what this devastating disease can do. ut if you are unsure the below guidelines can be followed

  • ALL Kittens,

  • Outdoor cats and cats that have contact with outdoor cats.

  • Housemates of  FeLV-infected cats.

  • Cats that may encounter other cats with unknown FeLV status.

If your cat is  tested positive for the disease, prevent him from having contact with other cats. If you have a multi-cat household all cats should be kept isolated. And the non infected members must receive a full vaccination schedule before being reintroduced to the infected cat. No new members must be introduced until the last FeLV carrier passed away, Remember if your cat has FeLV its your responsibility as an owner to prevent further spread of this devastating disease.

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