Feline Leukemia

Feline leukemia is a type of cancer that affects cats. The disease is caused by a virus called feline leukemia virus (FeLV).

Feline leukemia can be deadly and is a leading cause of death in domesticated cats. FeLV can cause other diseases as well, including other types of cancer and illnesses that attack the immune system of a cat.

Feline Leukemia Specifics

Feline leukemia is a retrovirus, just as feline AIDS and HIV. This means they only affect one species, in this case, cats.

A retrovirus attacks the body by attaching itself to the DNA of its host. Outside the host, a retrovirus is generally less harmful and can be easily killed by heat and certain types of light, among other things.

FeLV comes in three different types:

  • FeLV-A: This is the most common type and is the type against which most cats are vaccinated.
  • FeLV-B: This type is found in about half of the population of cats with feline leukemia.
  • FeLV-C: This type is extremely rare.

Effects of Feline Leukemia

Feline leukemia’s symptoms and effects vary widely from case to case and depend largely on the age of the affected cat. Symptoms can begin two to four weeks after a cat becomes infected with FeLV, though early stages of the disease are often hard to recognize. Early signs include:

  • mild fever
  • slight swelling of the lymph nodes
  • some lethargy.

Kittens are more likely to become affected by symptoms of feline leukemia, and male cats are more likely than female cats to contract the disease.

Feline leukemia can eventually cause:

  • anemia
  • decrease in the abilities of the immune system
  • gastrointestinal issues
  • neurological diseases
  • platelet disorders
  • problems with reproduction and the reproductive system.

Feline Leukemia Transmission

Feline leukemia is often spread through saliva. Cats can share saliva through:

  • grooming
  • nose to nose contact
  • sharing food, water or toys.

Feline leukemia can also be transferred in some cases through urine or feces, in which cases shared litter boxes can be to blame.

Feline Leukemia Prevention

The best way to protect your cat from feline leukemia is to have him vaccinated. Feline leukemia vaccination may not provide complete protection from the disease. Also, cats should be tested for FeLV before being given a vaccine.

Cats that live solely indoors may not need to be vaccinated for feline leukemia, as their chances for exposure are very slim. Talk to your veterinarian about whether or not a vaccine is needed for your cat.

Treatment of Feline Leukemia

Feline leukemia treatment varies depending on the symptoms of the particular cat. Dietary changes may be necessary, and medication will be prescribed to treat any FeLV-related health problems.

A veterinarian may also recommend other types of vaccinations or care to prevent additional illness from occurring.

Cats with feline leukemia may live for many years after the onset of the disease. Precautions need to be taken to avoid spread of the disease. Infected cats must be kept indoors, both to avoid contact with non-infected cats and to avoid unnecessary stress on an infected cat.