Feline Leukemia Virus
Feline Leukemia Virus, or FeLV, is a serious viral disease that researchers now consider to be the number one infectious disease causing death in cats.
FeLV can potentially affect any cat at any age. Indoor cats living in singe cat households are the least likely to be exposed. In the natural environment with cats going outside, the incidence of infection is only about one percent. In multi-cat households or in catteries, it can run as high as ten percent.
The virus itself is highly contagious, readily transmitted from cat to cat through saliva, blood, feces and urine. Close cat contact is necessary for transmission, yet without the cat, the virus is very unstable and will die within a few hours outside of a victim. It is highly unlikely you will bring this virus home on your clothing.
Research has shown that kittens can become infected while still in the womb, and for this reason is very important for breeders to have their cats tested for FeLV prior to mating.
What is surprising to many cat owners is that the majority of cats at some time in their lives actually come into direct contact with FeLV. Fortunately, some of cats will never show any clinical signs, let alone succumb to the disease. In these fortunate cats, their own immune system is able to fight off the virus.
For the cats in which FeLV does cause disease, it occurs either in the form of cancer or as a suppression of the immune system. This then in turn causes the system to be weak against other offending diseases.
A second form of cancer, although less common, occurs when the virus attacks the bone marrow and blood cells leading to leukemia.
Trying to determine if your cat suffers from FeLV is not a straightforward issue. Diagnostic testing has its limitations. In most cases the test results have to be interpreted by a veterinarian in the light of all the other information on your cats condition. Routine screening of young cats should be done before being introduced into a household containing any other cats.
Unfortunately, there are no long term, successful treatments or cures. Efforts have therefore directed at finding a means of prevention in the form of a vaccine.
The initial vaccine program consists of a series of two injections followed by an annual booster. It is important when the vaccine program is initiated for your cat that you carefully adhere to the booster schedule outlined by your veterinarian. Missing a booster will require starting the program again from the beginning.