What is Feline Leukemia?

Feline leukemia (FeLV) is a retrovirus produces an enzyme to reverse transcriptase in the cells, preventing the body to insert copies of their own genetic material into the infected cell. FeLV is common around the world, but the prevalence of the infection depends on the age, health, environment, and overall lifestyle of the cat. In the United States, about 2-3% of all cats are infected with Feline Leukemia.

The virus spreads from the saliva, urine, feces, and milk of infected cats. Cat-to-cat transfer can occur from a bite, grooming, or through shared feeding dishes and litter boxes. If a mother cat is infected, she can pass it to her kittens through birth and/or nursing.

Once outside the body, the virus doesn’t survive for long.

When in the body, the virus can affect the cat in numerous ways, the most common being cancer, blood disorders, and a state of immune deficiency, hindering the cat to fight off other infections.

There are two types of Feline Leukemia.

  1. Primary viremia- the early stages of the virus. In some cases, the cat may be able to effectively eliminate the virus from the bloodstream.
  2. Secondary viremia- the later stage, which is characterized by persistent infection of bone marrow and tissues. Most cats will have this stage for a lifetime.

Signs of Feline Leukemia

During the early stages, an infected cat my not show any signs, but over time, the cat’s health will begin to deteriorate.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Slow but progressive weight loss
  • Poor coat
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Pale gums
  • Inflammation of the gums and mouth
  • Infections of the skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Seizures, behavior changes, and other neurological disorders
  • Progressive weakness and lethargy
  • Breathing difficulty
  • A variety of eye conditions
  • Yellow color in the mouth and whites of eyes
  • In an unspayed female cat, the body may abort the litter or other reproductive failures may occur

Is Feline Leukemia Treatable?

85% of cats who have been diagnosed with FeLV, die within 3 years. However, regular checkups and good health care can help keep your cat feeling well and protected against secondary infections.

At this time, there isn’t a cure for Feline Leukemia. The symptoms and secondary infections can be treated, but if the cat’s bone marrow is compromised or has lymphoma, the prognosis is not good.v

If your cat is diagnosed with Feline Leukemia, you want to confine him from other cats, have him spayed/neutered, feed him a nutritionally balanced diet, and closely monitor his health.

Prevent Feline Leukemia

Indoor cats are less likely to develop FeLV, as they can be kept segregated from cats that may have the virus.

Vaccines can be given to cats with a higher risk of exposure, such as cats in a shelter, outdoor cats, and cats living in a multi-cat home.

Test new cats before introducing them to existing cats.