If you are a cat owner, chances are that you've heard of Feline Leukemia Virus or FeLV. FeLV used to be one of the top causes of cat deaths worldwide until a vaccine was created in the 1980's. It is still commonly found among cats with approximately 1-2% continuously infected. Once infected, there is no treatment for FeLV and it is usually fatal within a few years.
FeLV is an infectious virus that attacks and reproduces inside living cells and tissue. The cells then either die or mutate, leading to life threatening diseases.
The name Feline Leukemia Virus is somewhat misleading. FeLV was first found in cats with leukemia but the virus can cause many diseases and illnesses. These can range from neurologic diseases to cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma to anemia. Basically, FeLV severely suppresses the immune system allowing for diseases, in which the body would normally have been able to defend against, to thrive.
FeLV is passed on through bodily fluids (saliva, blood, urine and feces) or from a pregnant mother to her young. Kittens are much more prone to infection due to undeveloped immune systems. FeLV is more commonly found when there are multiple cats living close together. FeLV is a retrovirus which is very unstable and unable to survive in the environment outside of the cat for more than a few minutes.
FeLV is not zoonotic, meaning it is specific to cats and cannot be passed to other species. Exposure does not always mean infection; some cats who are exposed are able to fight off the virus with a good immune system. But because of how the virus progresses, an infected cat may not show any signs for a long time, sometimes even years. That is why it is so important to get a new cat or kitten tested, especially if you are bringing them home to other cats. If your cat tests positive for FeLV it is important to keep it isolated from other cats as to not pass on the infection.
At Eagle Animal Hospital we test for FeLV with a simple blood test that we run during your wellness exam. This "snap" test also tests for FIV (Feline AIDS). We recommend this test to all kittens and cats that have not been previously vaccinated for FeLV. Kittens may require multiple tests, if the first test shows a positive, to be sure of a persistent infection rather than a passing one where the immune system will win out. The first FeLV vaccination is given and then boosted again 3-4 weeks later. After the initial vaccinations, if your cat goes outdoors we recommend boosting the vaccine yearly.
If you have any questions concerning Feline Leukemia Virus, contact our office at (610) 458-8789. We serve Chester Springs, Downingtown, Exton, Glenmoore and the surrounding area.
Written by Kaelin Mast, receptionist