Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is responsible for the majority of household cat deaths. It affects all breeds, though it is more common in males and typically occurs in felines aged one to six years old. Outdoor cats and cats in multiple-cat environments are considered the most at-risk for contracting FeLV, a virus spread through warm fluids, such as nasal secretions, saliva, urine, or a mother’s milk. It can also be spread from a mother to her kittens while they are still in the womb. Grooming one-another and fighting tend to be the most common ways in which the virus spreads. Because feline leukemia cannot survive outside of a host, ordinary detergents, including bleach, successfully kill the virus on household surfaces.

The virus only affects cats and cannot be transmitted to humans, dogs, or any other animal. Through immunosuppression, FeLV impairs the affected cat’s immune system and is capable of causing a variety of diseases such as liver disease and intestinal disease as well as certain types of cancer. Because of their impaired immune system, cats with FeLV are also highly susceptible to various general infections.

It should be noted that there is a vaccination available for FeLV, though it is considered a non-core vaccine. Veterinarians usually suggest the vaccination for outdoor cats or cats in multiple-cat households. Please inquire about the vaccination if you consider your cat to be at-risk, as FeLV is often fatal.

What are the symptoms of FeLV? 

  • Avoiding litter box
  • Bladder infection
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Skin lesions which may or may not be infected
  • Tumors 
  • Uneven pupils
  • Weight loss
  • Wiry, coarse coat
  • Wobbly gait

Diagnosing and treating FeLV

The process of diagnosis for FeLV is fairly simple. A blood test called an ELISA can positively identify the FeLV protein within the blood, making an accurate diagnosis within our veterinary clinic possible. The ELISA test is so perceptive to these proteins that it can identify FeLV infections soon after a pet contracts the illness, even if they have not begun showing symptoms. In FeLV cases that have progressed, an IFA test can confirm the findings of an ELISA test. IFA tests are sent to commercial laboratories for completion. Cats with positive results to an IFA test are unlikely to cure themselves and usually have unfavorable prognosis. Urinalysis and bone marrow biopsy may also be used to aid in diagnosis.

Because there is no known cure for feline leukemia, there is no specific treatment. Numerous therapies have been researched and are currently being studied with no conclusive results. Current treatment includes spaying or neutering an infected cat and keeping them indoors, away from other cats. This protects other cats from becoming infected, as well as protecting your cat from developing any disease or illness they may come into contact with.

Efforts to prolong life include feeding your pet a nutritious diet, preventing exposure to disease, reducing stress levels, controlling parasites, and aggressive treatment of any secondary illness. Generally, FeLV is eventually fatal so ensuring your pet a comfortable lifestyle should be a primary concern.

If you believe your pet has contracted FeLV or you have any questions about the virus, feel free to contact our office at your earliest convenience.