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"Feline Leukemia Disease - AIDS of the Cat World"
Before we begin any discussion of Feline Leukemia Disease, I must inform you that we are dealing with a highly complex disease process. For clarity in understanding, I will not cloud the issue with a lengthy discussion of the pathogenesis of Feline Leukemia Disease. We will concentrate on the routes of infection, symptoms of the disease and what we can do to control infection in our own cats. For a more complete treatise of the topic I suggest doing a search on the Internet or you may e-mail me with specific questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
What causes Feline Leukemia Disease?
Feline Leukemia is caused by a virus called the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). Infected cats shed the virus in saliva, nasal secretions, tears, urine and feces. The virus may also cross the placenta of infected queens infecting unborn kittens. FeLV has also been found in the milk of infected queens. Most commonly we see FeLV infection occurring in the fighting outdoor male cats.
How common is Feline Leukemia Disease?
Aside from being hit by automobiles, Feline Leukemia Disease is the Number One Killer of Cats. Statistics vary in different regions, but examples are: West Virginia 23% of the cat population is infected, Ohio 12%. On an average, one in ten cats are carriers of Feline Leukemia Virus and may pass the infection on to others.
If my cat is indoors only can it get Feline Leukemia?
An isolated cat that is exposed to NO other cats and is not already infected with FeLV is safe. FeLV is not a hardy virus. In other words, it cant be brought home on your shoes from the pet food aisle in the grocery store, or it cant come through an open window on an airborne dust particle. It needs a carrier cat.
But, what often happens is we adopt an untested second or third cat and bring it into the household. Routes of exposure are shared water bowls, feeding dishes or litter boxes. As mentioned above, kittens can become infected in utero or via infected milk. To keep FeLV out of your house have your first cat tested and if found negative, never bring another cat into the household that is not tested and found to be negative for FeLV. Remember one in ten cats are carriers. That cute little kitten at the doorstep could cause the death of your favorite house cat!
Could this Little Sweetie Give Your Favorite Cat a Fatal Disease?
One in Ten Cats
are the Inapparent Carriers
Why do many call this disease "Cat AIDS"?
Feline Leukemia Disease may take many forms. One of the most common manifestations is when the virus causes immune suppression. The virus holds down the infected cats natural immunity to disease. At all times a normal cats mouth, nose, lungs, skin, intestine, etc. are covered with bacteria and viruses. The normal immune system keeps these bacteria in check and prevents disease. In human AIDS or Feline Leukemia Disease that natural immunity is reduced to the level that any bacteria or virus can multiply unchecked and cause disease. This is the only similarity in the two diseases and in NO way can the Human AIDS virus cause Feline Leukemia nor can FeLV cause Human AIDS!
What are the symptoms of Feline Leukemia Disease?
Thats a simple question. The answer is anything! Any disease that you treat over and over again and it doesnt get better may be caused by the immune suppression of Feline Leukemia. One of the first things we do in ANY chronic disease condition affecting our feline patients is test for FeLV.
Example: I have made second opinions on chronic nasal infections that have been treated for months with antibiotics to no avail. The first thing I did was to run a FeLV test. It was Positive! Although FeLV cannot be cured at least the owner was aware that their efforts would never cure the condition.
Remember if you have any disease condition in your cat that doesnt improve with conventional therapy, have it tested for FeLV.
How do you treat Feline Leukemia Disease?
Another simple question, but hard to face for owners of a beloved pet infected with FeLV You Dont! When a cat is exposed to FeLV several things may occur. #1 The immune system of the exposed cat may kill the virus and recover with immunity to FeLV #2 The virus may enter the cats body and lodge in bone marrow and lymphoid tissue where it can lie latent for years. A stress may cause it to become clinical at any time. #3 The virus may replicate and cause clinical illness and the death of the cat.
There is no treatment to eliminate the virus from an infected cat. To prevent spread of the infection to other non-infected cats, often the best course of action is the humane euthanasia of the infected pet. The only hope we have with Feline Leukemia Disease is in testing and preventative vaccination BEFORE your cat becomes infected.
Feline Leukemia Testing
Testing for FeLV has come a long ways in the past ten years. At the present time, nearly all small animal veterinarians have FeLV tests available right in their offices. Testing involves drawing about ½ cc of blood (1/10 teaspoon) from the cephalic vein in the front leg. This is a very non-invasive procedure. Actually most cats object more to the restraint than the actual blood drawing. The blood is processed according to the individual test protocol and the FeLV status can be determined in minutes. These in-office tests determine if antibodies to the FeLV are present. If the test is positive this means that there has been an exposure to FeLV and antibodies were produced by the cats body. If negative then no exposure has ever occurred and the cat can be vaccinated with good results.
If we find a positive, we then send a microscope slide containing a blood smear to a veterinary laboratory equipped to search for the actual virus. If no virus is found then we have a dilemma. The cat may either have been exposed to the FeLV and recovered with immunity or the virus may be lying latent in the bone marrow and caution must be taken in exposing the cat to any non-infected cats.
Vaccination for Feline Leukemia
Vaccinations are available to protect your cat against FeLV. After two doses are administered three weeks apart, your cat will have fairly good immunity against infection. I say "fairly good" because no vaccine is 100% effective. Most FeLV vaccines are about 95% effective in cats that have initially received the two doses three weeks apart and maintained with annual boosters. One thing that needs to be mentioned: All cats should be tested for FeLV antibodies BEFORE vaccination. If your cat is an infected carrier of FeLV, vaccination will not help clear the condition and your cat may spread the disease to other cats that are not effectively protected.
Any cat that goes outdoors should be tested and vaccinated for Feline Leukemia Disease. With One in Ten cats carrying the virus, the risk is too great to take any chances.
I also would not expose any cat to a new cat or kitten without first testing the original pet and the new arrival for FeLV. Remember vaccination is only 95% effective and there is no cure for the disease. I dont recommend taking any chances with this deadly disease. The risk is too great and cure is impossible at this time.
Laws of Cats
1 - Law of Cat Inertia
Have A Nice Weekend
Later, Dr Dan