Feline leukemia is a disease of cats caused by a virus known as the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). This deadly disease is transmitted by direct contact with infected body fluids (such as saliva, blood, semen and urine) from an infected cat to an uninfected cat. The most common way this disease is transmitted is via bite wounds. The more often your cat is in a fight with other cats, the more likely it will be exposed to FeLV. This is why uncastrated male Tom cats that fight a lot are at the greatest risk of having FeLV.
Cats exposed to FeLV can have one of three possible outcomes. First, the cat is able to fight off the infection and remain in good health. Second, the cat becomes infected and although the cat appears to be totally healthy, it can spread FeLV to any other cat with which it comes in contact. Over time, cats in this second group are more likely to develop FeLV related disease such as anemia, immuno-suppression or lymphoma, a form of cancer. The third type of exposure to FeLV happens when a FeLV positive mother exposes kittens to the virus. The virus can be transmitted to the kittens in utero or via the milk when the kittens are nursing. In this case, again the kitten might only be transiently infected and be able to get rid of the virus out of its system, or it may carry the virus and appear healthy until one or all of the above symptoms of disease begins.
This disease can be tested for and prevented by visiting your veterinarian. They will take a sample of your cat’s blood to determine if your cat has the virus or not. If your cat is negative to the test, it should be vaccinated against the virus if it is going to be an outside cat or it should be kept inside at all times to limit its exposure to other FeLV positive cats.
Cats testing positive for this virus can live happy lives in single cat households or in households with other FeLV positive cats. These FeLV positive cats must be kept indoors to protect other cats from getting this disease from them. It is also a good idea to keep them inside to protect them from other disease carrying cats. If they develop immuno-suppression from FeLV they would be much more likely to become gravely ill when exposed to other sick cats.
FeLV is a major disease faced by cat owners and their cats, but it is a manageable disease when the veterinarians and owners work together.
Compliments of Dr. Wanda Pool Deepwood Veterinary Clinic, Inc. 703-631-9133.