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The Feline Leukemia Virus in Cats

Although a diagnosis of Feline Leukemia Virus can be emotionally devastating, it is important to realize that cats with FeLV can live normal lives for prolonged periods. Our veterinarians in San Gabriel share some important information about Feline Leukemia Virus as well as the symptoms and prognosis for cats living with this infectious disease. 

What is the Feline Leukemia Virus

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is one of the most common infectious diseases in cats in the United States, most commonly affecting cats that are experiencing other conditions.

FeLV is easily spread from one cat to another through the saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces, and milk of infected cats. It is also possible for cats to spread this disease to one another during fights or mutual grooming, and occasionally through shared litter boxes and feeding dishes.

Feline leukemia virus can be passed on from the mother cat to her kitten before or after birth. However, FeLV does not live long outside of a cat's body and so direct contact is the typical form of transmission.

What are the symptoms of the feline leukemia virus?

A cat may not exhibit any of the expected symptoms in the early stages of infection with the feline leukemia virus. The longer they have been infected, the more likely a pet parent will notice a decline in their beloved feline's health. FeLV symptoms may include:
  • Loss of appetite
  • Progressive weight loss
  • Poor coat condition
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Persistent fever
  • Pale gums and other mucus membranes
  • Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and mouth (stomatitis)
  • Infections of the skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Seizures, behavior changes, and other neurological disorders
  • A variety of eye conditions
  • Reproductive failures, including the abortion of kittens

How is Feline Leukemia Virus Diagnosed?

When it comes to diagnosing feline leukemia virus there are two types of blood tests that your veterinarian may most likely use, both of which detect a protein in the virus called FeLV P27.

The first test your veterinarian may use is an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which is used during the initial screening for feline leukemia virus. Free FeLV particles are commonly found in the bloodstream during all stages of infection, and ELISA-type tests detect them.

What is the Treatment for Feline Leukemia Virus?

The unfortunate truth with FeLV is that there is no known cure. The goal of treatment will be to manage and lower the amount of feline leukemia virus in the bloodstream to help ease symptoms and reduce transmission although this may not be effective in all cats.

It is common for veterinarians treating and managing FeLV-positive cats to treat specific symptoms and conditions that the cat is experiencing due to FeLV, such as infections or anemia.

Can Feline Leukemia Virus be Prevented?

The only way a pet parent can protect their cat from the feline leukemia virus is to keep them away from FeLV-infected cats. One of the best ways to ensure this is to keep your cat inside. If you still want to let your cat play outside, keep an eye on them or confine them to an area where they will be safe and away from other outdoor cats. Before introducing a cat into a home, it should be tested for FeLV, and infection-free cats should not be allowed to interact with infected cats.

Always ensure that FeLV-infected cats have their litter boxes and dishes and will not have access to those of the non-infected cats.

A relatively effective vaccine against FeLV is available, although like most vaccinations it is not 100% effective and is an elective vaccine, it is recommended as an easy way to lower the risk of your cat contracting FeLV. Owners contemplating vaccination for their cat or cats against feline leukemia virus should consider the cats' risk of exposure to FeLV-infected cats and discuss the pros and cons with your San Gabriel veterinarians.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your pet is showing symptoms of the feline leukemia virus, it is important to have them seen as soon as possible. Contact our San Gabriel veterinarians to have your cat diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

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