Feline Leukemia

The 2 most important viruses affecting cats today are Feline leukemia (Feleuk) and Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Of all contagious diseases that cats get Feleuk is now considered the number 1 killer. Both diseases weaken the cat’s immune system making it more susceptible to other diseases and infections. FIV causes an AIDS-like illness in cats and is very similar to the HIV virus which causes aids in humans. You should know, however, that there is no evidence that either Feleuk or FIV can be transmitted to humans.

Typically, Feleuk is passed from cat to cat through casual contact, licking and grooming, while FIV transmission is associated with more aggressive contact such as biting. Feleuk can be transmitted in-utero, and is also known to be spread through urine, feces, and saliva.

The infections occur in two stages. During the initial phase of each disease many infected cats appear healthy. Therefore, many cats go through stage 1 with the disease unnoticed by their owners. Generally, problems are not detected until stage 2 when the immune system weakens and other infections occur. If you notice any of the following warning signs, you should immediately consult your veterinarian.

Stage 1

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever Weight loss
  • Poor coat condition
  • Lethargy

Stage 2

  • Loss of appetite
  • Oral lesions or sores
  • Skin, urinary & upper respiratory infections

If your veterinarian is suspicious that your cat has either Feleuk or FIV, he or she can confirm the diagnosis through a blood test that can be performed in the clinic and that takes only a matter of hours. If an apparently healthy looking cat is found to be positive, the test is usually repeated several weeks later.

The recommended care and treatment for a cat found to be infected with the Feleuk or FIV virus varies depending on whether the cat is displaying symptoms of the disease or is an asymptomatic carrier. Since there is no medicine available that will rid the body of either virus, all a veterinarian can do is to treat the secondary bacterial infections that arise. A cat that tests positive but that is not showing any symptoms may continue to live a normal happy life for many years. Any cat testing positive for either virus should be kept on a superior diet and in a stress free environment. Immune stimulants may be used to support the body in keeping the disease in check.

In general, leading veterinarians recommend that Feleuk or FIV positive cats should be confined indoors to reduce the chance of transmitting the disease to other cats and to limit exposure to other infections. Feleuk infected cats should be isolated from other cats in the household if possible. Also, regular veterinary checkups should be scheduled to monitor the cat’s condition and to treat any secondary infections as quickly as possible.

Cats most at risk for Feleuk or FIV are male cats, outdoor cats, cats in multi-cat households, and stray cats. The rate of Feleuk infection is highest among cats between 1 and 6 years old, where FIV infection is highest among cats greater than 4 years old.

Since neither Feleuk or FIV infections can be successfully treated, having your cat protected through vaccination, makes good sense especially if your cat gets outside or if you plan on bringing a second or third cat into your household.

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