Feline Leukemia Virus
Is My Cat At Risk?
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) infection is one of the leading causes of death in pet cats and kittens. Within the past 20 years researchers have discovered that this virus is associated with numerous diseases. Infected cats rarely live more than three years. Fortunately, a vaccine is now available to protect cats against leukemia virus.
Many FeLV Diseases
Leukemia, a blood cell cancer, is only one of many outcomes of infection with FeLV disease. Another cancer ï¿½ lymphosarcoma ï¿½ is actually a more common FeLV disease. The cat with leukemia or lymphosarcoma tumors may die quickly or after a lengthy period of suffering and deterioration.
Still more common are "associated diseases" that result when FeLV impairs a cat's immune system. Cats infected with FeLV have limited abilities to resist other infections by even the most ordinary bacteria, viruses and fungi. They may experience reproductive failures, a high rate of infectious diseases such as colds and pneumonia, frequent stomach problems, skin and mouth sores and anemia. In fact, one notable FeLV researcher has said that FeLV infection must be suspected and investigated whenever a feline patient develops any illness. Typically cats die of associated disease before FeLV cancers develop.
A Contagious Virus
Feline leukemia is contagious. It is present in the saliva, urine, and feces of infected cats, and it is passed to healthy cats by licking, sneezing, and sharing contaminated food bowls and litter pans. Kittens can even pick up the virus by nursing an infected mother. Cats at highest risk to exposure of FeLV live in multiple cat households where one or more cats is infected. Incidence of persistent FeLV infection in cats in this environment is as high as 30 percent. Cats in single cat households also may be exposed if they ever encounter other infected cats; therefore it is important to know the FeLV health status of a new cat before introducing it into an existing cat househhold.
Diagnosis of FeLV Infection
Because FeLV is associated with many disorders; observable signs of FeLV disease vary dramatically. It is impossible to diagnose a cat precisely from observable signs in the early stages of infection. Still, signs such as depression, fever, loss of appetite and swollen glands in the neck or abdomen suggest onset of FeLV-related disease. At Sunrise Pet Clinic we offer an inhouse snap test for FeLV that takes a small amount of your cat's (or kitten's) blood with results in less than 20 minutes. Kittens of all ages may be tested.
Prevention Now Possible: Vaccine Recommended
For many years cat owners had no means of preventing FeLV infection in their pets. FeLV vaccines now exist and protect cats against virus exposure. Cats can be protected against the many forms of suffering associated with and caused by FeLV infection. Vaccination is recommended for all healthy cats nine weeks of age or older that have tested FeLV negative but are at risk of contracting the disease by going outdoors and possibly having close, intimate contact with other cats.
It should be noted that FeLV vaccine is not recommended for indoor cats whose exposure is limited to other indoor-only cats that have tested FeLV negative. For those owners who board their cats there are a number of boarding facilities that do not require the FeLV vaccine (though some do require a negative FeLV test). Sunrise Pet Clinic supports these boarding facilities (see links) for indoor-only cats. Since there is no legitimate reason any boarding facility should allow close, intimate and personal contact between boarding felines, a FeLV vaccine should not be needed as a boarding requirement.
See also Introducing New Cats Into Your Household
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