How To Protect Cats and Kittens from Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)


Feline Leukemia Virus is the most infectious disease among household cats. Feline leukemia is the most common cat cancer, and often the end result of infection with feline leukemia virus.

About a third of cats infected with FeLV will not be able to overcome it, with proper support and good health they can live 2-3 years with the disease barring complications.

Other infected cats will either rid their bodies of the disease, or become a symptomless carrier of it. Cats who carry the disease are at risk of spreading it, and if the cat becomes sick or stressed (weakening the immune system) symptoms may begin to appear.

What is Feline Leukemia Virus?

Infecting up to 3% of domestic US cats, there are actually three types of feline leukemia virus. Type A causes immuno suppression, Type B tumors and other abnormal growths, and Type C anemia. A cat can be infected with one or more of these viruses.

FeLV is a retrovirus, closely related to feline immunodeficiency virus which is comparable to the human disease HIV. Think of FeLV more as a viral disease than as a cancer—cancer is usually only the final stage.

How Is It Transmitted? Are My Cats at Risk?

Cat mucus, saliva, urine, feces, and milk all have a large viral load of feline leukemia virus. The virus can only survive a short time in open, dry air, but can survive longer in wet litter boxes, water bowls, and mucus that me be left in a feeding dish.

Certain cats are at higher risk for FeLV than others: those with weakened immune systems (already sick cats, or kittens, who are more than 3 times as susceptible), and those who have more encounters with potentially infected cats (urban cats, out-door cats, cats in multi-cat households, and males aged 1-6—all of these are more than 4 times as susceptible).

What are the Symptoms of FeLV?

It takes months after exposure to know if your cat has contracted FeLV, and not all cats will show symptoms at this time. If you think you’re cat has been exposed, due to a cat bite, breeding, or other less likely transmission, talk to your doctor about tests (it may require a few rounds to positively diagnose) and watch for these symptoms of feline leukemia virus:

  • Unusual Weakness or Fatigue (or, even, depression)
  • Poor grooming or other coat quality changes
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Litter box avoidance
  • Lesions on the skin or in the mouth
  • Inflammation-visible as swelling, especially in the gums
  • Problems with the eyes-excess mucus, clouds, etc.

What Happens If My Cat Has FeLV?

Feline leukemia virus weakens the immune system, leaving possibility for any number of secondary infections and problems.

Commonly, the skin, mouth/GI Tract, and respiratory system become infected. Anemia and other blood disorders are common complications, and if the virus is in the brain the cat may suffer seizures.

Cats with FeLV often have reproductive problems or become infertile, and are at risk of spreading the disease while breeding or to their offspring in utero or while nursing. If your cat has FeLV, it’s advised you spay or neuter them.

What Sort Of Treatment Options Are There?

If you have pet health insurance, you can probably get interferon designed for cats with FeLV, which has a decent success rate at prolonging the life of infected cats.

Keeping your infected cat indoors not only reduces the risk of other cats becoming infected, but protects your cat from picking up other bacteria and viruses that may make it more ill.

**It’s also important to keep your cat away from humans with weakened or suppressed immune systems, including the very young and old, and pregnant women. Although humans can’t get feline leukemia virus, they can catch other diseases an infected cat may be carrying due to its weakened immune system.**

What You Can Do For Your Infected Cat:

Monitor your cat closely in association with a vet, specifically you need to watch for rapid weight loss as well as secondary infections.

Giving your cat antioxidants can help lesson damage done by the virus. Aiding the cats immune system with a supplement such as colloidal silver may also be helpful, with regard to both FeLV and secondary infections.

How to Protect Healthy Cats:

Reduce your cat’s exposure to other cats who may be infected be keeping them indoors or monitoring them while outside (never get between fighting cats-cat bites contain a host of pathogens and can take a long time to heal).

If you have multiple cats, try to find healthy cats a new home if one becomes infected. If this isn’t an option, get all your cats tested for FeLV and monitor them all closely. Using separate litter boxes and bowls can help reduce the risk of transmission. Using a three tiered litter box (designed for diabetic cats) keeps litter dry, killing the virus faster.

Closely monitor interaction between your cats.

Although there is a vaccine for healthy cats, it’s not 100% effective and a small percentage may develop an aggressive tumour at the injection site.

Again, giving your cat colloidal silver may aid its immune system. Try adding a capful to water dishes (this will also help keep the water pathogen free, reducing transmission).

Do you have any experiences with feline leukemia virus you can share? How did you protect other cats in your house? Did you try the vaccine for your pets, and did it work? Share with us in the comments!


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