Feline Leukemia Virus

FeLV is the number-one deadliest disease among domestic cats. Vaccination is the only defense against this virus.

Posted: Tue Dec 17 00:00:00 PST 2002

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Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) suppresses the immune system and results in various types of cancer and other chronic and debilitating diseases in cats. Signs of infection include gum disease, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, decreased appetite, lethargy, anemia and infections that are resistant to standard treatments. Although cats can remain apparently healthy for months or even years following infection, once signs begin, they are difficult to impossible to treat successfully.

FeLV is transmitted through direct contact with an infected cat, such as by mutual grooming, fighting or playing, or by sharing a food or water dish or litter box with an infected cat. The virus can spread from an infected mother cat to her kittens through the placenta or during nursing. Bite wounds are an especially effective method of transmission because there is a high level of virus in salvia of an infected cat.

Affected cats not yet showing signs of illness may shed the virus and be infective to other cats, making it vital never to bring a new cat into your household without testing for FeLV. Many cats appear to be perfectly healthy at the time of diagnosis another reason every cat should be tested for FeLV. Because the disease's lengthy incubation period may cause an infected cat to test negative for some time after exposure, the cat should be retested six weeks after possible exposure.

Even though a vaccine against feline leukemia virus has been available to cat owners since 1985, FeLV remains the leading infectious cause of illness and death in domestic cats. At this time, vaccination and preventing exposure to possible carriers are the only defenses against this devastating disease.

FeLV vaccination consists of two initial injections about three weeks apart with yearly boosters thereafter. It is highly recommended that cats be tested for FeLV before vaccination.

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Reader Comments

CatChannelEditor    Irvine, CA

8/20/2012 12:46:42 PM

Michelle -- FeLV negative cats can be around FeLV positive cats without problem. They can live in the same shelters and not share the disease. Always take your cat to the vet when necessary; vets and their staff take great precautions against transmitting diseases between cats. Please feel confident in adopting cats from shelters or rescue groups. You will more than likely find healthy, happy cats.

michele    sacramento, CA

8/18/2012 10:46:04 AM

So, If i take my cat to the Vet or Clinic , It sounds to me that I am putting myself and my cat at risk. since the viruses i am sure are there at clinics . Am i right? It might be better to purchase my kittens from online sources like ebay instead of going to places where infected cats may have visited, well i might be paranoid and on the other hand maybe all cats have these viruses because cats are everywhere so the viruses are everywhere and we are all in the hands of God!!!

Janet    Bethlehem, PA

1/17/2010 8:19:27 AM

good article thanks

Sage    Ontario, MI

2/21/2009 6:26:55 PM

Interesting.

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