Feline Leukemia: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

What is feline leukemia? What symptoms does cat leukemia have? How is it diagnosed? How can I prevent it? Is Feline Leukemia Treated? We will answer all your questions about one of the infectious viruses that most affects cats. What is feline leukemia?

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is one of the most common infectious diseases in cats . Infection rates are significantly higher (up to 30%) in sick or high-risk cats. Fortunately, the prevalence of leukemia in cats has decreased significantly in recent decades thanks to the effective development of the feline leukemia vaccine.

This virus negatively affects a cat’s body in many ways. It is the most common cause of cancer in cats , it can cause various blood disorders and can lead to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat’s ability to protect itself against other infections.

How is it transmitted?

Cats infected with feline leukemia serve as sources of infection for other cats. The virus is shed from the saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces, and milk of infected cats.

Transfer of the virus from cat to cat can occur through a wound or bite , during mutual grooming and (rarely) through shared use of the litter box and food containers.

Transmission can also occur from an infected cat to her kittens , before they are born or while you are nursing them.


Which cats are most at risk for feline leukemia infection?

Cats most at risk for FeLV infection are those that may be exposed to infected cats , either through prolonged contact or through bite wounds.

The newborn kittens are much more susceptible to feline leukemia infection than adult cats , and therefore are at greater risk of infection if exposed. However, even healthy adult cats can become infected if they are sufficiently exposed.

Symptoms of feline leukemia

During the early stages of infection, it is common for cats to show no signs of illness at all . Over time, however, (weeks, months, or even years) the health of an infected cat may progressively deteriorate or it may experience repeated cycles of illness and relative health.

These symptoms can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Progressive weight loss
  • Poor coat condition
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Persistent fever
  • Pale gums
  • Swollen gums and mouth
  • Infections of the skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Seizures, behavioral changes, and other neurological disorders
  • Kitten abortion or other reproductive failure

How is leukemia in cats diagnosed?

Two types of blood tests are commonly used to diagnose feline leukemia. These tests are as follows:

  • ELISA: Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay. It is used as a screening tool through the vet.
  • IFA: Indirect Immunofluorescence Assay Test. It is generally only used after a positive ELISA test to confirm feline leukemia infection and determine the stage of the cancer.


Treatment and prevention of feline leukemia

Although there are some therapies that have been shown to decrease the amount of FeLV in the bloodstream of affected cats, these therapies can have significant side effects and may not be effective in all cases.

Unfortunately, there is currently no definitive cure for feline leukemia. Veterinarians who treat and monitor infected cats that show signs of illness generally treat specific problems.

The only sure way to protect cats from feline leukemia is to prevent their exposure to infected cats . It is recommended to keep cats indoors, away from potentially infected cats.

Feline Leukemia Vaccine

Among the vaccines for cats , a relatively effective vaccine against leukemia in cats is available, although it will not protect 100% of vaccinated cats , and it is not considered an essential vaccine.

Since not all vaccinated cats will be protected against feline leukemia, preventing exposure remains important even for vaccinated pets.


Disease control

The median survival for cats after being diagnosed is around two and a half years.

Once a cat has been diagnosed with feline leukemia, it is important to monitor the disease by:

  • Careful weight control
  • Appetite control
  • Activity level
  • Elimination habits
  • Appearance of the mouth and eyes
  • Behavior

Any abnormality in any of these areas should be preceded by a visit to the vet.



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