Things You Should Know About Feline Leukemia

This leukemia is not cancer, but rather a virus, and cats who have it can live good lives.

Feline leukemia is not cancer

In humans, leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, but feline leukemia is a virus. The feline leukemia virus can cause cancers, however.

The virus is short-lived but highly contagious

The most common ways cats get infected with FeLV are through mutual grooming and bite wounds. Saliva and nasal secretions have a high concentration of the virus. Mother cats can transmit leukemia to their kittens through their milk, but some kittens seem to fight off the infection. It’s rare, but occasionally the virus is transmitted through shared litter boxes and food dishes. The good news is that the virus doesn’t survive long outside the body — just a few minutes or so under normal conditions.

Repeated or continuous exposure is necessary for infection

Misty Felv Positive Cat According to the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, healthy adult cats can fight off the virus for a long time, even with long-term exposure. Kittens and young cats have less resistance, though. The virus won’t even appear in a blood test until the cat has been exposed for at least four weeks.

A cat exposed to FeLV doesn’t necessarily get infected

About 30 percent of exposed cats don’t get infected at all. Another 30 percent develop a transient infection — the virus is present in their blood and saliva for less than 12 weeks, after which they are cured and aren’t contagious to other cats. Between five and 10 percent of exposed cats develop a latent infection: The virus is no longer in their blood and saliva, but it still lives in their bone marrow. These cats can start shedding the virus again under stressful situations or transmit the virus to their kittens in utero or through breast milk. But 30 percent of exposed cats do develop a persistent infection; they remain contagious and have a much shorter life expectancy.

About a third of persistently infected cats develop cancer

Of the 30 percent of exposed cats who develop a persistent FeLV infection, about a third develop a virus-related cancer. The most common type is lymphosarcoma, also known as lymphoma, masses that can be found in the lymph nodes in the groin, chest, armpits and neck. Lymphosarcoma sometimes spreads to other organs such as the eyes, brain, kidneys and other organs. The virus can also cause the blood cancer known as leukemia, but that’s much less common.

FeLV-positive cats can have good lives!

Leukemia-positive cats must be kept indoors and fed the best possible diet. Regular vet checkups are crucial for maintaining health. They may not live as long as other cats, but they can enjoy a good quality of life as long as they receive excellent care. Because FeLV-positive cats’ immune systems are weak, they need aggressive treatment of any infections.

How is infection with FeLV managed?

Veterinarian with catFeLV-infected cats can sometimes live for years. Stress and exposure to ill animals should be avoided. FeLV-positive cats should be kept indoors both to protect them from exposure to disease and also to prevent them from spreading FeLV to other cats.

By knowing a cat is FeLV-positive, your veterinarian may select different vaccination protocols, diet, preventive care, and treatments of other diseases than for an uninfected cat. Any sign of disease will require early recognition and often more intensive treatment.