Feline Leukemia Virus


Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is a retrovirus which affects cats. Retroviruses have the distinct ability to insert their genetic information into a host cell. This allows the virus to replicate undetected, making the retroviruses the most concerning viruses. You can think of FeLV as the HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) of cats.

Up to 12% of the cat population has Feline Leukemia Virus. Cats infected with this virus can transmit it to healthy cats by bite wounds, grooming each other, or from using the litterbox (although this occurs rarely). Some cats can be carriers for the virus (do not exhibit clinical signs) while most will develop symptoms of FeLV within 2-3 years of being exposed to the virus. Kittens can be exposed to FeLV prior to birth or during nursing if their mom was infected. Families that have multiple cats show nearly the same incidence of disease as the general feral (wild) cat population.

Feline Leukemia Virus manifests itself as a chronic debilitating disease that suppresses the immune system until other bacteria and viruses invade the host system. These secondary invaders will ultimately cause death of the infected cat. FeLV is also the most common cause of cancer in cats. Typical signs of the disease are from the secondary invaders and include some of the most common clinical signs: loss of appetite, skin/urine infections, diarrhea, and problems with the hair coat. Unfortunately, treatment of affected cats is less than rewarding. Death usually occurs at the discretion of the owners or by immune system failure.

Tests are available to identify FeLV. The test we run requires just a few drops of blood and the results are available within 15 minutes. Any new cat, outdoor cat, or cats belonging to multi-cat household should have this test to determine the status of FeLV.

A vaccination is available for FeLV. Depending on your cat’s risk to FeLV, our doctors will assess whether or not a FeLV vaccine is recommend for your feline friend. Annual vaccination for Feline Leukemia will not only help prevent the disease, but will help minimize the potential spread of this disease in the cat population.

Kittens In Grass

There is no current evidence that FeLV can be directly transmitted to human family members. However, families with immune suppressed individuals should carefully consider whether providing a home for a FeLV positive cat. The most urgent concern is all those secondary invaders that accompany a FeLV positive cat. These invaders can pose risk to the elderly, AIDS patients, or patients receiving immunosuppressant medications.

Feline Leukemia Virus can sometimes be a difficult disease to understand. Hopefully this article answered some of your questions. However, if you have more questions about FeLV please contact us at 651-739-0117.

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