What is feline leukemia? | How to care for a cat with FeLV


Feline leukemia is one of the most common diseases to befall cats, especially those that go outdoors. It is highly contagious amongst cats and is a virus that attacks the immune system of the host, causing immunodeficiency problems that can lead to a host of secondary infections, many of which can be fatal if not treated swiftly.



How can I tell if my cat has FeLV (feline leukemia)?




Not all cats who are exposed to the virus will get it. Those that do will begin to show symptoms two to four weeks later during the acute stages of the disease. These cats will have a fever, be lethargic, vomit, and have swollen lymph nodes. Excessive vomiting is always a sign that your cat needs to see the Vet, so if you get your cat to the vet early then they can begin treatment and you can work on protecting them from secondary infections.


Secondary Infections?




Yes. FeLV is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body begins to attack itself and this decreases the amount of immune system able to fight off serious infections and diseases that would normally get all the attention. Secondary conditions can include anemia, kidney disease, cancer, respiratory disorders, and a host of other problems. Secondary symptoms include weight loss, recurring infections, diarrhea, weakness, pale gums, and difficulty breathing. If your cat begins to suffer from severe diarrhea, pale gums, or difficulty breathing, you will need to seek emergency treatment as your cat may be in serious condition.


Is it a type of cancer?



Feline Leukemia is an autoimmune disease and some forms of the virus can mutate into cancer. Cats who develop cancer will show symptoms of cloudy eyes, diarrhea, liver and kidney damage, respiratory problems, and vomiting. These cats may be able to receive chemotherapy to treat cancer, however, there is no treatment for FeLV.


What will my Vet do to tell if my cat has FeLV?


Blood tests are the most common way of determining if your cat has FeLV (feline leukemia). This is generally run in the house and if positive, your Vet will want to rerun it a few weeks later to ensure that it was not a false positive.


What about my other cats?


FeLV (feline leukemia) is a highly contagious virus that is transmitted through saliva. Many cats receive it through bites, mutual grooming, and sharing litter boxes. If your cat is positive, they can still live a very long and happy life, however, in order to protect your other cats, you will want to isolate them. Make sure that you remove any shared food and water dishes, litter boxes, and toys.


How can I prevent my cats from getting FeLV?


The best course of prevention is to keep your cats indoors. Test all your cats when you get them and then keep them from going outside where their risk of exposure increases significantly. If your cats must go outdoors, get them vaccinated. While the vaccine is not 100% effective in all cats, it is in some cats and will provide some level of protection against the disease. There is no treatment for FeLV, so prevention is the best course of action. If your cat is diagnosed, you will want to take steps to help manage pain to keep them comfortable and to prevent them from being exposed to secondary infection risks.


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