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

janet    bethlehem, PA

9/15/2010 9:23:20 AM

good article thank you

DaLynn    Elk City, OK

7/27/2010 1:22:34 PM

I have never had Smokey tested but, he has been getting the shots every year. I have understood that if I do not continue this treatment he will develop the disease. Smokey is a strictly indoor cat, and he has no other contact with any other animals. what shoul I do.

Venisa    Wausau, WI

2/16/2008 10:22:05 AM

We rescued a stray kitten found at a factory, and cared for it despite its testing positive for FeLV. The vet, however, was sickened because the kitten was most likely abandoned by people who knew it was infected at birth. PLEASE act differently if you find yourself in this position. That kitten lived a very happy life for 5 years, and actually had a relatively mild end-of-infection experience. Don't give up on them so quickly!

DENISE    BELLPORT, NY

1/14/2008 4:47:32 PM

I VOLUNTEER AT AN ANIMAL HOSPICE AND FOCUS MOST OF MY TIME TO OUR FeLV CATS. IT IS WITHOUT A DOUBT A DEVASTING DISEASE. VACCINATION IS THE GREATEST GIFT YOU CAN GIVE YOUR CAT. I HAVE SEEN SO MANY AMAZING CATS SUCCOMB TO THIS MONSTER OF A DISEASE. AT THE SAME TIME I HAVE ALSO SEEN SOME THRIVE FOR MANY YEARS. BUT AGAIN VACCINATE YOUR CAT. I PROMISE YOU WILL BE GRATEFUL YOU DID.

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