Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) in cats

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) in cats causes serious disease by compromising the body’s ability to fight off any infection (immunosuppression).  FeLV is also responsible for other conditions such as cancer, anaemia and seizures.

Feline Leukaemia Virus in cats: how infection occurs

The FeLV virus is secreted in saliva, stool, urine and faeces of infected cats. Therefore, cats can catch this virus from close contact with other infected cats. Bite wounds are the most common way the virus is transmitted.  However, mutual grooming, sharing of food and water bowls and litter trays can also result in infection. Kittens can be infected before birth or by drinking milk from an infected mother.

Feline Leukaemia Virus in cats: the symptoms

Symptoms of Feline Leukaemia Virus are mainy related to the secondary infections that the cat may pick up due to its compromised immune system.

Common symptoms are:

  • Poor coat
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Pale gums
  • Repeated and persistent illnesses such as urinary tract infections or diarrhoea
  • Disorientation, incoordination and seizures

There are, however, a small number of cats who only carry the disease; they are infected with FeLV, but don’t actually become ill. It is important to note that these cats can still infect other cats.

How is the disease diagnosed?

FeLV is diagnosed through a simple test done at a veterinary clinic. Results are available in around 10 minutes.

When should I have my cat tested?

All cats’ status should be known. More specifically, any new cat, whether young or adult, that is about to be introduced into the household must be tested, and any cat that is free to roam outside.

FeLV can have a major influence on recovery from other illnesses so if your cat is already sick, your vet may insist on an FeLV test.

What if my cat tests positive?

If your cat tests positive, you should try your best to do the following:

  • Keep your cat strictly indoors and separate from all other cats
  • Ensure that it has a stress-free environment, or consider using pheromones where appropriate
  • Take your cat for regular health checkups at your vet
  • Keep up tick and flea prevention and deworming.

Cats that test positive and show symptoms can be treated. Treatment mainly involves management of the underlying diseases. In some instances, use of anti-retroviral drugs may be considered.

If underlying conditions can be managed effectively, cats can live with the virus. However, there are certain indicators such as seizures and low blood counts that do not bode well for recovery.

Prevention

  • All cats that are able should be vaccinated against FeLV.
  • Limit your cat from roaming, consider indoor restrictions or cat-proof fencing.
  • Isolate new cats until their status is known.
  • Do not let your cat roam if it has FeLV. It may not only give FeLV to other cats, but can be exposed to other diseases which, due to its compromised immune system, will make it ill too.