Don’t Cry Kitty Cat – Feline Leukemia

So, you just adopted an adorable kitten from your kind neighbor. And when you took him to the vet for his first checkup, he did great in the physical exam. However, his blood samples showed something odd: Your cat is positive for feline leukemia (FeLV). What does this mean? And how will this affect the future of your kitten? Here are nine facts about this disease, which occurs in about 2% to 3% cats in the United States.


Fact #1: Feline leukemia is not cancer

Among humans, leukemia is a cancer of the blood and the bone marrow. However, feline leukemia is a virus. Although, it is the feline leukemia virus that can cause cancers.

Fact #2: There are 3 types of feline leukemia infections

The first type is FeLV-A. All cats infected with the virus start with type A, which causes a suppression of the immune system. FeLV-B occurs in about half of infected cats, causing tumors and other abnormal tissue growth. The rarest is FeLV-C, found in only 1% of infected cats, and causes severe anemia. Cats positive with FeLV can develop a combination of all three types of infections or just have Type A.

Fact #3: The virus is short-lived but very contagious

The most common ways for cats to get infected with FeLV are through bite wounds and mutual grooming. Nasal and saliva secretions have a high concentration of the virus. Mother cats can transmit it to their kittens through their milk, although some kittens are able to fight off the infection. It might be rare, but the virus can be transmitted through shared food dishes and litter boxes.

Siamese cat with vet

Fact #4: Repeated exposure is necessary for infection

Healthy adult cats can fight off the virus for a long time, even with long-term exposure. However, kittens have less resistance to the virus. The virus will not even appear in the blood test until the cat has been exposed for at least 4 weeks.

Fact #5: Exposure to FeLV does not necessarily mean infection

About 30% of exposed cats do not get infected at all, while another 30% develop a transient infection. Between 5% and 10% of exposed cats develop a latent infection, and begin struggling with complications of the virus or transmit the virus to their kittens. But 30% of exposed cats develop a persistent infection; they remain contagious and have a shorter life expectancy.

Fact #6: Infected mother cats have pregnancy troubles

A mother cat that is infected with FeLV has a higher chance of spontaneous abortion of some kittens, stillbirths and even resorption of the fetuses. Feline leukemia is also a possible cause of some cases of fading kitten syndrome.


Fact #7: About a third of persistently infected cats develop cancer

Of the 30% of exposed cats that develop a persistent FeLV infection, about a third develop a virus-related cancer. The most common type is called lymphosarcoma, otherwise known as lymphoma, which are masses that can be found in the lymph nodes of the neck, armpits, chest and groin. It can also spread to other organs like the kidneys, eyes and brain.

Fact #8: FeLV-positive cats can have good lives

Leukemia-positive cats should be kept indoors and fed the best diet possible. Regular vet checkups are important for maintaining health. They might not live as long as healthier cats, but they can enjoy a good quality life for as long as they get excellent care. Because the immune system of FeLV-positive cats is weak, they require a more aggressive treatment for any infections.

Fact #9: Immune-boosting therapies can help

There are some vets that would recommend using system-boosting medications like interferon, Lymphocyte T-Cell Immunomodulator or even undergo a vet surgery in Central Bucks to remove any tumors.

If you suspect that you have an FeLV-positive cat, it is important that you visit a veterinary radiation oncologist in PA as soon as possible so your cat can receive the proper management. Look for a reputable pet referral hospital that you can bring your cat to.

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