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Feline leukemia

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Leukemia is a common problem in cats and dogs.  Cancer has many possible causes, including age, genetics, and exposure to certain chemicals.  However, many people do not know that cancer can also be caused by viruses.  For instance, the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) can cause a variety of cancers and other serious disease conditions in cats.

FeLV can strike any cat of any age.  However, infection is most common in kittens, cats that roam outside, and cats living in households with more than one cat.

Infection with FeLV is associated with a wide range of diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma, and repeated infections.  One of the main targets of the virus is the immune system, resulting in poor immune defenses and chronic infections.

Signs of illness depend somewhat on the areas of the body that are most affected.  For example, respiratory infections show up as runny nose or eyes, coughing, sneezing, and difficulty breathing.  Intestinal infections may show up as vomiting and diarrhea.  More general signs of ill health include poor appetite, weight loss, sluggishness, swollen lymph nodes, and fever.

Your veterinarian can diagnose FeLV infection with a blood test.  Many infected cats do not show signs of illness for some time, but they can still pass the virus on to other cats.

There is no cure for FeLV infection.  Treatment involves stimulating the immune system, fighting secondary infections, and making your cat comfortable.  Infected cats should be isolated so that they don't pass the virus to uninfected cats.

Prevention involves testing all cats and keeping infected cats separated from cats that are not carrying the virus.  All cats should be tested before entering a new household.  Cats that test negative can be vaccinated to prevent infection.  Your veterinarian can provide more information on testing, vaccination, and disease progression.

 

Q&A

What cats are most at risk for infection?

FeLV can strike any cat, but is most common in kittens, cats that roam outside, and cats living in households with more than one cat.


How is FELV diagnosed?

Your veterinarian can diagnose FeLV infection with a blood test.  


What kind of illness is associated with FELV infection?

FeLV can cause a wide range of diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma, and repeated infections.  One of the main targets of the virus is the immune system, resulting in poor immune defenses and chronic infections.


Do all infected cats get sick?

Many infected cats do not show signs of illness for some time, but they can still pass the virus on to other cats.


How can I protect my cat from FELV?

There is no cure for FELV, but it can be prevented by testing all cats and vaccinating those that are not yet infected.

 


 

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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