Feline leukemia is caused by an infectious virus which can cause a variety of diseases in cats, including leukemia. It is usually fatal, with 80-90% of infected kitties dying within 3-4 years of diagnosis. Because of its serious nature, it is vital for cat owners to understand this terrible disease.
Feline leukemia, or FeLV, is shed in the saliva and bodily fluids of the infected cat. It is transmitted to other cats through direct, close contact such as during mutual grooming, fighting, or from a mother cat to her kittens. The virus invades the cells in the infected cat’s body causing death or mutations of those cells. This often results in cancer, the most common type being lymphoma. Feline leukemia virus also suppresses the immune system so that the infected cat is unable to fight off infections.
When a cat is exposed to FeLV, most times it is able to fight off infection with a normal immune response. Some cats are unable to fight off the virus, however, and become permanently infected. These cats may not develop outward signs of a problem immediately, and can continue to transmit the virus to other cats.
Diagnosis of FeLV is made through a simple blood test. There is not, however, a cure for the disease. Most cats will eventually die or need to be euthanized due to the infection or problems related to the infection.
The good news, however, is that there is a very effective vaccine that can help reduce your cat’s chances of contracting feline leukemia. Keeping your cat indoors and away from unknown cats can also decrease the odds that he or she will be exposed to the virus. Talk to your veterinarian about whether your cat could benefit from being vaccinated for feline leukemia. It may just save his or her life.