Leukemia

Despite its name, Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) does much more than cause some cases of cat leukemia. FeLV is a retrovirus that attacks the immune systems of infected cats and can lead to a variety of cat health problems. In fact, FeLV infection is one of the most common causes of illness and death in-house pets. The virus is spread from cat to cat, and there is no evidence of it infecting humans or pets.

Leukemia

How it Affects your pet

FeLV is transmitted through infected urine, feces, blood and saliva. Cats are most often exposed to the virus when they have some type of close contact with infected animals. Examples of close contact include grooming, sharing a litter box and sharing food and water bowls. Pregnant and lactating females can also transmit the virus to their kittens. Exposure to FeLV does not guarantee lifelong infection with the virus. In fact, approximately 70 percent of cats exposed to FeLV resist infection or eliminate the virus from their systems. Cats at greatest risk of developing persistent FeLV infection include kittens less than three months of age and cats with compromised immune systems. Male cats have a higher risk of infection than females, but healthy adult cats, especially FeLV vaccinated cats, are unlikely to be infected with the virus. Two to six weeks after initial infection, infected cats often develop a mild illness characterized by fever and swollen lymph nodes. This passes quickly and often goes unnoticed by owners. Infected cats shed virus in their secretions for a few weeks to a few months. The majority of infected cats clear the virus within six months. In 30 percent of infected cats, however, FeLV infection becomes permanent. Persistently infected cats often remain healthy for long periods of time, but they eventually develop serious problems. Among some of the health problems FeLV cats can face are leukemia, lymphoma, other cancers, anemia, reproductive problems, intestinal problems and immune system disorders. More than 80 percent of cats with persistent FeLV infection die within three years of diagnosis.

Common symptoms

Symptoms of this pet health problem are variable, but some of the most common signs of the disease include the following: Enlarged lymph nodes, Fever, Pale gums, Yellowing of the gums and whites of the eyes, Weight loss, Poor appetite, Chronic or recurrent infections, Poor coat, Sterility in intact females, Weakness, Diarrhea and Breathing problems.

Treatments

By the time persistent FeLV infection is diagnosed in most cats, there is no way to clear the virus. The goal of treatment for a pet with persistent FeLV infection is to prevent secondary illnesses. This involves implementing a comprehensive preventative care program and aggressively treating health problems as soon as they occur. By treating this disease and preventing secondary infections and other illnesses, owners and veterinarians can give cats with FeLV a high quality of life for a significant period of time. The best way to prevent FeLV is to vaccinate your pet against the virus and test all cats before they enter a household with other cats. Cats that test positive should not live in close contact with kittens or unvaccinated adults. 

Breeds Affected

Members of all feline breeds appear to be at equal risk of FeLV infection.

Leukemia Affects

  • FeLV is transmitted through infected urine, feces, blood and saliva. Cats are most often exposed to the virus when they have some type of close contact with infected animals. Examples of close contact include grooming, sharing a litter box and sharing food and water bowls. Pregnant and lactating females can also transmit the virus to their kittens. Exposure to FeLV does not guarantee lifelong infection with the virus. In fact, approximately 70 percent of cats exposed to FeLV resist infection or eliminate the virus from their systems. Cats at greatest risk of developing persistent FeLV infection include kittens less than three months of age and cats with compromised immune systems. Male cats have a higher risk of infection than females, but healthy adult cats, especially FeLV vaccinated cats, are unlikely to be infected with the virus. Two to six weeks after initial infection, infected cats often develop a mild illness characterized by fever and swollen lymph nodes. This passes quickly and often goes unnoticed by owners. Infected cats shed virus in their secretions for a few weeks to a few months. The majority of infected cats clear the virus within six months. In 30 percent of infected cats, however, FeLV infection becomes permanent. Persistently infected cats often remain healthy for long periods of time, but they eventually develop serious problems. Among some of the health problems FeLV cats can face are leukemia, lymphoma, other cancers, anemia, reproductive problems, intestinal problems and immune system disorders. More than 80 percent of cats with persistent FeLV infection die within three years of diagnosis.

Similar conditions

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