Feline leukemia (FELV) is a disease that only affects cats, of all breeds. It cannot be transmitted to humans, dogs or any other animals. This viral infection is responsible for a majority of deaths in household cats.

Male cats (especially with outdoor access) and kittens are more at risk to contract the infection and it is usually detected between the ages of one to six years old. It is transmitted from one feline to another through saliva, blood and in some rare cases, feces and urine. Kittens are also susceptible at either birth or from their mother’s milk.

Feline leukemia impairs the cat’s immune system and causes certain types of cancers. There are three types of infection: FELV-A, FELV-B, and FELV-C. Cats diagnosed with this virus can be infected with one, two or all three types. The symptoms depend on the type of infection.

Common symptoms include, but not limited to:

  • orange kittenEnlarged lymph nodes
  • Pale gums
  • Yellow color in mouth and whites of eyes
  • Weight loss/poor appetite
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

A simple blood test can be performed in-house to determine if your cat has FELV. The test is called an ELISA test. It works by identifying any present FELV proteins in the blood. The test is very sensitive and can identify cats with very early infections.

It is important to note that many cats that test positive on the ELISA test will manage to clear the infection in a few short months. If the ELISA is positive, a second test, called IFA is then performed. The IFA detects the progressive phase of the virus. This test is more in-depth and needs to be sent out to a laboratory. Cats with a positive IFA result are unlikely to clear the virus and have a poor long-term prognosis.

Unfortunately, 85% of cats persistently infected with FELV die within three years of diagnosis. Routine veterinary exams and good preventative care can help these felines feel well and prevent a secondary infection from occurring. All felines infected with FELV should be kept indoors as well as neutered. Currently, there is no cure for FELV, but secondary infections can be treated as they appear and cats with cancer can receive chemotherapy.

Protection and prevention is key! Keeping your cat indoors and away from potential infected cats is a sure way to prevent your cat from contracting the virus. Vaccines are also available and should only be given after a cat is tested and result is negative. A new cat or kitten should be tested before being introduced into a multi-cat household.

Questions, or concerned about your feline? Call us at (207) 657-3393 today.