If your pussy cat has recently been diagnosed with Feline Leukemia, you will most probably have a lot of questions to ask. Most will have definitely been already been answered by your Vet, but if you are searching for a bit more knowledge, we hope you might find some answers here.
If you are a cat owner, then we hope that you may find this information useful when considering vaccinating your cat or kitten. Many people are not aware of the danger that the Feline Leukemia Virus poses to our beloved cats, not to mention the devastating long term effects on their health. We should consider that prevention is better than cure , we hope this article will help you to make an informed decision.
Retroviruses are single strand RNA viruses and they replicate themselves by inserting a DNA copy of their genome (the complete genetic information of the virus) within the host cell.
Feline Leukemia infections affect around 1-2% of the cat population worldwide, that is a lot of infected cats.
Did you know?... The No 1 cause of death for cats is trauma, the No 2 cause of death for cats is Feline Leukemia, which shows how prolific Feline Leukemia Virus really is. Luckily there are cats who get infected with Feline Leukemia Virus, that will have a sufficient immune response and will be able to completely eliminate the virus. Some cats will contract the virus and not become visibly ill, however, as the immune system could not rid the body of the virus completely, they are likely to have what is called a “Latent Infection”. A latent infection means that whilst the Feline Leukemia virus is present in the body, it is dormant and therefore there are no symptoms. Of course, this also means that contracting another infectious disease or even stress could trigger an activation or reactivation of the infection. Another thing to mention is that tragically, as the Feline Leukemia Virus is present but undiagnosed, the cat could pass the infection onto other cats. This is such a shame, because as responsible pet owners if we know that there is an infection, of course we would keep our cats indoors to help prevent the spread of the Feline Leukemia virus.
Unfortunately for the rest of the cats that contract Feline Leukemia virus, the prognosis is not so good. They will develop a permanent infection that proceeds rapidly, causing damage to the internal organs as the virus invades the cells of the immune system and blood-forming tissues. This cell invasion causes the “death” of the cell or a “mutation” where there is a genetic code change to the cell. This mutation of the cells could potentially make them become cancerous. However, please know that this could also take years after the initial infection to develop. Most commonly the virus can cause secondary illnesses, Anemia (low levels of healthy red blood cells) or indeed Lymphoma (cancer beginning in the Lymphatic system). It can also cause deadly infections because the virus suppresses the immune system. Other cancers that could develop are Leukemia (cancer of white blood cells) and tumors anywhere in the body. It is important to know that not all cats will develop cancer as a result of contacting the virus and equally, not every cat with cancer will have the Feline Leukemia virus.
Feline Leukemia can be transmitted between an infected cat and a susceptible (unvaccinated) cat in a couple of ways.
In an infected cat, the virus can be found in their saliva, milk, nasal secretions, urine and feces. The highest concentration is usually in the saliva, therefore a potential way that it could be transmitted is via a bite, where the saliva and therefore the Feline Leukemia virus is directly introduced to an open wound and directly into the bloodstream.
Another way that the virus can be transmitted is via habitual social interactions, be that grooming, sharing food and water bowls, mating or sharing litter trays.
If a female cat has Feline Leukemia, the chances are that she will be infertile. However, were she to give birth, her kittens could be born with the virus or she could pass the infection to her kittens by feeding or grooming them.
It is worth noting that a cat with a latent Feline Leukemia viral infection could still pass the virus onto a susceptible cat, even though they look healthy and are not presenting any symptoms. Also, kittens and cats with underlying health conditions are more at risk of contracting the virus as well as any cat that has not been vaccinated.
Feline Leukemia virus is also known as FeLV. FeLV causes disease exclusively to cats, meaning that fortunately humans and other species of animals cannot get infected with this virus.
If a cat contracts Feline Leukemia and their immune system has an effective response that eliminates the virus, it is worth knowing that there is still the risk of damage being caused that could develop into illness in the future.
For cats that develop a permanent infection of the Feline Leukemia virus, they have a high risk of developing a related effects such as: Suppressed Immune system, Anemia, Neoplasia (the excessive growth of cells or tissues), skin diseases and reproductive issues. Unfortunately, having Immunosuppression means that the cat is susceptible to a host of secondary infections and diseases. This is because their immune system is compromised by the feline leukemia infection, and it cannot fight diseases & infections as effectively as usual.
Cats who have the Feline Leukemia Virus generally will start to get persistently ill over time and start to show a deterioration in their general health. Here are some warning signs of Feline Leukemia, although the only way to be truly sure is to have your cat tested at the Vets.
Skin, Bladder or Ear infection
Yellowing of the eyes and inside of mouth
Loss of appetite/weight loss
Dry skin or unkept fur
Enlarged Lymph Nodes
Quite often there are other diseases and symptoms present that occur with a Feline Leukemia Virus infection. This can make the situation a little more complicated. If your cat seems to be persistently poorly and they are starting to show signs of poor health, it might be advisable to take them to the vets for a check-up. The test for Feline Leukemia is a simple blood test that is performed at your Veterinary surgery. Further tests can be made to identify the phase of the infection. As mentioned before, a positive result for the virus doesn’t always mean a long-term infection for some cats. It is also worth bearing in mind that occasionally false positive and false negative results can occur.
Unless the immune system of the cat can successfully remove the infection itself, there is currently no cure for the Feline Leukemia Virus.
There are treatments available to reduce viral replication but mainly the treatment is of secondary illnesses and/or infections contracted. This is due to the suppression of the cat’s immune system, leaving them more susceptible to getting poorly. Sometimes successful treatment of these secondary illnesses can lead to improvement of the cat’s health and potentially extend their life expectancy.
For cats that have a permanent infection of the Feline Leukemia Virus, treatment is mainly aimed at symptomatic and supportive medicine.
Management seems to be the keyword to living with the virus, here are some suggestions:
Always keep up to date with veterinary check-ups, vaccinations, worming & flea treatments.
Ensure your cat has excellent nutrition, your vet will advise you on the best diet to use. It is worth mentioning that it is better to avoid a raw food diet due to the risks that are involved with certain raw foods.
It is very important to get your cat to the vets so that they can be diagnosed and treated for any secondary illnesses or infections as quickly as possible. Please bear in mind that treatment could take longer to be effective due to the suppression of the immune system.
It is better to keep your cat indoors to help prevent exposure to possible infections and of course to help to prevent the spread of Feline Leukemia to other cats.
If your cat develops Anemia as a result of contracting the Feline Leukemia virus, your vet may want to administer the appropriate medicine or even perform blood transfusions.
With regards to Feline Leukemia associated Cancers such as Lymphoma or indeed Leukemia, your vet will advise you on the best course of action to take. This could of course be Chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, the life expectancy for cats with a persistent Feline Leukemia viral infection is somewhat lower than the average cat.
Here are some ways to help prevent the spread of the Feline Leukemia Virus:
Please note that whilst the vaccination of cats against Feline Leukemia virus is a highly effective preventative measure, unfortunately no vaccines are 100% effective.
Provided that your cat is up to date with their vaccinations, having a Protectapet Pet Healthcare Plan in place for your cat means that veterinary bills for the diagnosis and treatment of the Feline Leukemia Virus and, most importantly the treatment of secondary illnesses and infections will be covered.
We hope that will give you a little extra bit of peace of mind!
You can get an instant online quote for our Pet Healthcare Plans that will cover any breed and any age of cat or dog with the additional bonus of your premium being fixed for life.
We hope you found our article about Feline Leukemia Virus informative, here are some of our other pet related articles for you to read:
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this article "Cats and Feline Leukemia Virus in Spain" has been written in collaboration with Tangalina and White Mouse Media on behalf of Protectapet.