Feline Leukemia Virus is one of the most devastating diseases in the cat world. This contagious disease is spread from cat to cat via direct contact. Mating and fighting are the most common means of transmission as the virus is found in large quantities in bodily fluids (especially saliva). Grooming each other and sharing food bowls and litter boxes are other ways that the virus can spread between cats. Although indoor cats are at a very minimal risk of contracting this disease all of our outdoor kitties are at a much higher risk.
Feline Leukemia is a virus that is found in up to 7% of the feline population. Some areas have much higher incidences of this disease and it is more common in wild cat colonies and catteries where there are multiple cats in close contact with each other. Although there are other areas where FeLV is more common it is certainly a concern in our area and still poses a risk to your outdoor cat.
The Feline Leukemia Virus makes your cat sick by causing cancer in various cells throughout the body. This can result in a multitude of different cancers including leukemia and lymphoma. Additionally, the virus causes immune suppression resulting in a variety of infections and illnesses that the body is unable to defend itself against. Diarrhea, neurological symptoms, life-threatening anemia and severe eye disease are other conditions caused by and associated with Feline Leukemia. Most cats who develop Feline Leukemia Virus die within 3-4 years. Some cats are able to mount enough of an immune reponse to clear the virus completely from their systems. This is relatively uncommon and does not occur in most cases.
Since the symptoms of FeLV can be so complicated and difficult to interpret the disease must be diagnosed with a blood test. The FeLV/FIV test is performed in the clinic using just a few drops of blood. Results are ready in 10 minutes. The test is relatively accurate although false positives can occur in certain situations. All kittens should be tested for FeLV when they are first brought into the home. If the kittens are less than 12 weeks old at this time another test should be performed at 12 weeks. All adult cats should also be tested if they have ever had access to the outdoors or to other cats with unknown vaccination history.
The best way to protect your cat from Feline Leukemia is to have them vaccinated. The Feline Leukemia vaccine is an annual vaccine that should be administered to all indoor/outdoor cats or indoor cats who have access to other cats who go outside. If you have any questions about Feline Leukemia please do not hesitate to contact River Road Veterinary Clinic.