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Feline Leukemia (or FeLV) is thought to have been on earth over several million years ago. It is believed to have evolved from the murine leukemia virus that lurked with the dinosaurs. Although this virus has lasted for such an extensive amount of time, the modern form of this disease cannot live long outside the host’s body and is easily killed off by most disinfectant household cleaners.
What is Feline Leukemia?
Feline Leukemia is an infectious virus that shows up most frequently in shelters, crowded multicat homes kitty mills and catteries. Very rarely does a feral cat come in with signs of FeLV unless they are exposed to shelter cats or domestic cats with the disease. The virus replicates within the cat’s body planting its own DNA into the cells and weakening the cat’s immune system.
How is Feline Leukemia transmitted?
Feline Leukemia is transferred through bodily fluids; urine, blood, saliva, feces, bite wounds. Vaccinating a cat against FeLV gives the cat some measure of protection but it isn’t foolproof. An infected cat can shed this virus usually through the litter pans. Other cats step in the pan, get it on their paws, and lick their paws and the virus lives on. It can also be transmitted in utero if the Queen has the disease, she can pass it to her kittens or give it to them through her milk. It lurks in food bowls and water dishes.
What are the dangers of Feline Leukemia?
The danger lies in the destruction of the cat’s natural immune system once infected. The virus can also cause certain types of cancers to grow within the host cat. If the cat doesn’t die from the virus, the cat can die from secondary infections or disease.
So what’s the Good News?
Not all cats who come in contact with the virus will die. Older cats show immunity to the disease and although they might come down a bit sick, their body can shake off the virus over time. Kittens are not that lucky. Most young kittens deprived of mom’s colostrums first off (or born of an infected Queen) will die from the disease. Those kittens born from an Immune Queen will carry protection against this virus until they reach the age of 6-12 weeks then the protection vanishes.
If the cat becomes ill or not depends on many factors; nutrition, environmental stresses, sanitation, health and age. Only about a third of the cats exposed to FeLV will actually come down with the disease. You should test for the disease before vaccinations are given.
What are the symptoms of Feline Leukemia?
Early symptoms are; lethargy, fever, lack of appetite, vomiting, constipation and in some case diarrhea. The lymph nodes become enlarged, anemia sets in (look for pale gums). As the virus advances, the symptoms increase: rapid weight loss, bloody urine and stool, rodent ulcers, jaundiced gums and the inside of the ears also become jaundiced as do the foot pads. The lowered immune system as mentioned before causes secondary infections to take hold. What follows is death.
What tests exist to detect FeLV?
There are two tests that exist to detect FeLV -
Is there a cure for FeLV?
In the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook Third Edition (which no cat lover’s home should be without) the author writes:
Currently, there is no known cure for Feline Leukemia. The cure comes with the care of the cat, managing the diet, lowering the stress level, keeping the cat healthy with immune boosters and keeping other cats who might be ill away from the FeLV positive kitty. There is also no chance of you becoming sick with leukemia when you have an FeLV positive kitty. Let’s hope in the not-to-distant-future, veterinary medicine will find a cure for this disease and it will finally sink out of sight. Extinct just like the dinosaurs.