If you have a cat, chances are good that you've heard of the disease feline leukemia, which is sometimes abbreviated FeLV. But how much do you really know about this condition? It's not a cancer like leukemia in humans. It's actually a contagious infection that your cat can catch from other infected cats. For that reason, it's important that you know the symptoms of this condition, how it is spread, and how to protect your feline companion.
What causes feline leukemia?
FeLV is a viral condition caused by a retrovirus that operates in a manner to the virus that causes human immunodeficiency, or HIV. The virus inserts itself inside of the cat's cells and prevents the production of certain immune-related blood cells. As a result, infected cats are more susceptible to other diseases such as pneumonia, fungal infections, and intestinal infections. Infected cats can pass FeLV on to other cats through grooming and by sharing litter boxes and food dishes.
What are the symptoms of feline leukemia?
When initially infected, cats don't really display any symptoms at all. However, symptoms may appear several weeks, months, or even years after the cat contracts the virus. Symptoms vary widely between cats, but they often include:
- Severe and sudden weight loss
- Respiratory symptoms such as a runny nose, coughing, and sneezing
- Lesions on the skin
- Poor coat condition
How is feline leukemia treated?
If you suspect your cat may have feline leukemia, a vet can conduct a blood test to confirm the diagnosis. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the disease. However, your vet can recommend supportive therapies such as IV fluids, antibiotics to fight secondary infections, and a special diet, to keep your cat more comfortable. Most cats either die from a secondary infection that they develop due to the weakened immunity caused by FeLV or are kindly put to rest by their owners before they have to suffer so much.
How can you protect your cat from FeLV?
The best way to protect your cat from FeLV is to have him or her vaccinated for the disease. However, vaccines are not 100% effective, you'll also want to take the following measures:
- Have any new cats tested for FeLV before bringing them into your home.
- Do not allow your cat outside where he or she may come into contact with FeLV-positive cats.
Remember that cats often do not show symptoms until they've been infected for months or years, so just because a cat appears healthy does not mean it's not FeLV-positive and a danger to your cat. Contact a company like Animal House Veterinary Hospital to learn more.