Do you know that feline leukemia is more common than you know? Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a common feline disease that is the second biggest cause of death among cats. The prognosis of the disease depends but usually, about 80% of the cats die within the three years of the diagnosis.
It causes lymphoma and anemia in cats and affects the immune system. Due to this, the immune system does not support the cat’s health and exposes him to a number of other infections and diseases.
However, this also does not mean that if your cat has been diagnosed with it then he will die for sure
About 70% of the cats could live a healthy and long life with proper administration and management. And many of them could also eliminate the virus on their own. But still, it is a dangerous virus and could take your cat’s life if not treated properly.
Know more about the virus in the blog here.
Definition - What is Feline Leukemia?
By definition, feline leukemia is one of the most common reasons for death among cats. It affects cats of all ages, gender, and breeds and no cat is more susceptible to it. As per the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, the virus affects about 2 to 3 percent of healthy cats.
The risk is s high as 30% for cats who have an existing health condition.
Since it is a feline disease, only cats are affected by it, which means that in case your cat contracts the virus, he will not transmit it to you or any other family member. It could also not be transmitted to dogs and other animals also.
FeLV is second to trauma only when it comes to the causes of death in cats. Luckily, the incidence of cats dying of this virus has decreased. It happened due to early detection, awareness among the cat owners, and prevention.
How is the Feline Leukemia Virus Transmitted?
The virus only affects felines, hence the name, and could not be transmitted to humans and other animals. It is transmitted from cat to cat through a number of mediums with mating, bite wounds, fighting, shared litter boxes, and mutual grooming is the most common mode of transmission.
It could be passed to other cats through several bodily fluids including blood, saliva, urine, and feces. It could also be transmitted to kittens also. They could either transmit the disease while still in the uterus or from the milk of the infected mother.
The virus is hard to detect as it is transmitted to other cats through seemingly healthy cats. The cat may look healthy but still has the virus. Therefore, it is important that you keep your cat’s ‘roaming around’ activity as minimum as possible.
What are the Risk Factors for the Cats?
The main risk factor is that if your cat gets in contact with a FeLV infected cat then he will be at a higher risk of contracting the disease. It could happen to both healthy and sick cats with the sick ones being more at risk than the healthier ones
Besides the adult cats, the kittens are more susceptible to get the disease. It is because since they are young, their immune system is still developing. It may not be successful in protecting him from the virus.
Indoor cats have a relatively low risk of getting the virus but the ones living in a multi-cat household could get the virus. Those who love to roam around in the neighborhood are more exposed to the virus as stray cats are the common carriers of this virus.
Symptoms - What are the Symptoms of FeLV?
The virus affects the cat in a number of ways. Since it inhibits the healthy working of the cat’s immune system, it is a common cause of cancer, blood-related problems, and other health issues in cats.
Due to a weak immune system, the cat could not protect himself against infections, allergies, and diseases.
Because of this, such cats could get really sick due to common feline infections that may not affect healthy cats. In the beginning, the cat may not show any symptoms but as the weeks, months, and years pass by, they begin to exhibit several signs of the viral infection. Moreover, he may also get sick repeatedly.
Here are some common signs.
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Poor coat
- Enlarged or swollen lymph nodes
- Constant fever
- Yellow gums and mucous membrane
- Swollen gums and mouth
- Several infections including urinary bladder, skin, and upper respiratory tract
- Constant diarrhea
- Several eye conditions
- Infertility and repeated abortion
- Weakness and lethargy
- Difficulties in breathing
- Oral diseases
All of these are signs of the virus but not all cats will have all of these symptoms. The best way of knowing whether the signs are due to the virus is by getting your cat checked by a vet.
Diagnosis - How is the Virus Diagnosed?
To diagnose the virus, the vet will conduct a simple blood test, known as ELISA, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The test identifies and indicates the presence of FeLV protein in the cat’s bloodstream. The test is helpful in detecting early signs only.
Some cats do manage to clear the infection within a few months, resulting in negative test results.
The other blood test is IFA. it is used to identify the virus, which is in its progressive stages. The cats that test positive on this blood test will not be able to clear off the infection. They remain infected for life and will need supporting treatment and medication for survival.
The test is performed in the laboratory and, usually, cats having positive test results do not have a positive prognosis. However, hypoallergenic cats are the healthiest cats and they rarely develop feline leukemia.
Treatment - What is the Treatment for the Feline Leukemia Virus?
Currently, there is no cure or specific treatment to eliminate the virus. Cats with FeLV will be persistently infected for life and many of them would die within two to three years of the diagnosis. The cats having the virus are also euthanized.
However, treating the symptoms could show some positive results in the improvement of the cat’s health.
If, unfortunately, your ct has contracted the disease then a regular checkup from the vet and maintaining your cat’s health would be helpful in minimizing the symptoms. Treating secondary infections and twice-yearly examinations, proper laboratory testing, and parasite control will help in detecting any signs and complications at their early stages.
Cats having cancer could get chemotherapy but the felines having bone marrow complications and critical lymphoma may not respond to any secondary medication also.
Prevention - How can you Prevent the Virus?
The best way of preventing the virus is to keep your cat indoors. Do not let your feline mingle with neighborhood and stray cats and minimize his ‘socialization’. Moreover, staying updated on your cat’s vaccinations is also a helpful way of controlling the virus.
Cats living in catteries and shelter homes are at a higher risk of getting the virus. When vaccinating the cats, vaccinate the healthy ones only and once they are vaccinated, check if any of those cats had exposure to the virus.
As per the American Association of Feline Practitioners, sick cats should be tested for FeLV immediately. It is because the virus could cause a number of diseases and health complications. Kittens that are more than eight weeks of age should also be tested for the virus before they go to a household having a cat already.
The FeLV positive cats are still a risk for other cats. Therefore, such cats must not be allowed to live with a healthy cat.
The prognosis for cats infected with FeLV is heartbreaking but let’s face it, no one could say anything for sure. These cats could still have a happy and prolonged lifespan. However, once the cat is diagnosed with it, he must be monitored carefully and any signs of abnormality should be administered immediately.