Feline leukemia is a disease that all cat owners fear. It is a cancerous type of illness that is similar to the human HIV virus. It affects the immune system and although many cats can live with the disease for several years, there is no real cure at the present time. A cat can carry the feline leukemia virus for many years without showing any symptoms. Unfortunately it is a major cause of death and severe illness in many cats.
Cats cannot infect humans or other species of animals with the virus. It is what is known as a species specific disease. Up to two percent of cats carry the feline leukemia virus but do not come down with a full blown case of the disease. It is unknown why male cats are more susceptible to carrying the virus, but it affects males slightly more often then it does females. Kittens of a young age are also more susceptible to becoming infected with the virus then adult cats. Kittens can become infected by being groomed by their mothers, by the birth process of an infected mother and also by nursing.
The most common way the virus is contracted is through infected cats sharing water bowls with healthy cats, grooming and close contact with saliva and mucous. Many male cats will fight with each other if not neutered, so the bites and scratches they receive are also responsible for the virus spreading. The sharing of a litter box should be avoided if at all possible since the virus is also in feces and urine, but not to as great as an extent as through saliva.
Some of the first symptoms of feline leukemia are diarrhea, fever, fatigue and enlarged lymph nodes. It usually takes approximately three weeks for a cat to show the first signs of the disease after being exposed. Other problems that may arise include anemia, weight loss, infections, respiratory distress, gum and/or problems with the teeth and certain types of cancers. The cat may also develop problems with their eyes.
Although there is a vaccine for feline leukemia it isn’t always one hundred percent effective. To date there are no vaccines that can fully protect your cat. It is a very good idea to speak with your Vet to find out what his or her opinion is as far as which vaccine you should choose for your cat.
Once your cat has been diagnosed with feline leukemia there are several treatments options available. The first is to have the other cats in your household checked for the disease. If they are declared free of the virus you will need to keep the infected cat and the healthy cats separated as much as possible to avoid spread of the disease. All healthy cats and kittens should be vaccinated as soon as possible. Cats must be tested before the vaccine is given. If you are the owner of a single cat that has tested positive, it is helpful to keep the cat indoors so he or she doesn’t come in contact with any unvaccinated cats outdoors.
Source:Overview, Types of FeLV – Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) – Animal Health Channel