Feline Leukemia Virus
This is Toni, a 7 year old neutered female cat. She was a happy healthy kitten and had no illnesses until her owner noticed she was very sleepy and not eating. She was diagnosed with feline leukemia virus. FeLV is a cancer causing virus that affects cats causing lymphoma, leukemia or other tumours. Other major effects of FeLV infection are severe immunosuppression and development of anaemia and more cats will die of these complications than from development of tumours. 80-90%of cats die within a year of diagnosis as there is no treatment. Thankfully due to the development of vaccines and ready to use tests the prevalence of infection with this virus has reduced.
How is the virus spread?
A persistently infected cat will shed large amounts of the virus in saliva, faeces, urine and milk. The infection is most likely spread by mutual grooming, sharing food bowls and litter trays where the virus can be ingested. The virus can also be transmitted through biting and if a cat is infected with FeLV, any kittens she produces will also be infected (although many die o before birth). The infection is most commonly found in sick outdoor cats that are not neutered. In general only 1-2% of indoor pet cats are infected. In Toni’s case we think she may have picked up the virus later in life, not from her mother. Toni was an indoor-outdoor cat and must have come into contact with an infected cat that was shedding the virusH
Signs of FeLV
FeLV affects the immune system of cats. Typically cats will show chronic recurrent illnesses that progressively get worse over time. In Toni’s case she became very sleepy, didn’t eat very much and slowly became duller and duller. She was very anaemic in the final stages.
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Upper respiratory signs like runny eyes, sneezing
- Skin problems, gastro problems
- Pale gums (anaemia)
How do I find out if my cat has FeLV?
Thankfully there are very quick and simple tests to use at the vets so that you will find out almost straight away if your cat has this virus.
My cat has FeLV , what next?
Unfortunately there is no cure for FeLV, if your cat is already very ill and suffering the kindest thing to do is consider euthanasia. If you aren’t ready for this and the cat is in reasonably good health, steps can be taken to keep them more comfortable. It is important to note that most cats don’t live longer than 6 months after diagnosis and also to be aware of the potential spread of virus to other cats.
How to control the spread of FeLV
- It is important to determine the the FeLV status of your cat regardless of how healthy they are. This is done by testing them to see if they have FeLV or not. Any positive cats should be kept separate from other cats as to avoid spreading the virus further
- Vaccination of cats against this virus works well and all kittens should be vaccinated in their first year and second year and then after that people can choose whether to vaccinate against it or not depending on their cat’s lifestyle (indoor v outdoor)