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Feline Leukemia Virus: What You Need to Know

feline virus
3 Other Feline Infectious Diseases to Watch Out For 

In addition to feline leukemia, several other types of serious feline infectious diseases are common in cats, including:

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

The feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) also weakens your cat's immune system and can cause many of the same symptoms of feline leukemia, such as weight loss, diarrhea, poor coat condition, cancer, anemia and eye disorders. FIV is transmitted when your cat is bitten by another cat. The FIV vaccine will help protect your cat from developing this fatal disease.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis

Feline infectious peritonitis is spread by inhaling contaminants in the air or by contact with infected feces. Cats with weaker immune systems, including kittens and older cats, are more likely to develop this often deadly disease. When your cat is approximately 3 years old, his immune system will be stronger, and he will be less likely to develop feline infectious peritonitis. The disease is more common in homes with many cats or in facilities with multiple cats, such as shelters or boarding facilities. The wet form of the disease affects body cavities while the dry form affects the organs. This disease is also fatal; although you can keep your cat comfortable by treating symptoms, such as diarrhea.

Feline Distemper

Feline distemper, or panleukopenia, is a contagious viral illness that can kill your cat. Luckily, a vaccine can help prevent the illness. Feline distemper is particularly deadly in kittens, due to their weak immune systems. Cats get feline distemper when they come in contact with the feces and urine of an infected cat. It can also be spread by fleas or by transmission from a mother to her kittens. Symptoms include high fever, depression, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea.

Feline leukemia (FeLV) is a virus that weakens your cat's immune system. Unfortunately, when the immune system does not function properly, your cat may be more likely to develop other diseases, such as cancer and blood disorders.

How Cats Contract Feline Leukemia

Cats get feline leukemia from other cats. The virus is spread in saliva, urine, feces, nasal secretions and milk from nursing mothers. When an infected cat bites or grooms another cat, that cat may develop the virus. If a pregnant cat has feline leukemia, the kittens might be born with the disease or may develop it after nursing. Because kittens have weaker immune systems than older cats, they are more likely to suffer from the virus. Cats can also spread the virus by sharing food dishes or litter boxes; although this does not happen very often.

Symptoms of Feline Leukemia

There may be no symptoms of the disease during the earlier stages. In the later stages, symptoms may be similar to those that are also typical of other types of viruses. Depending on the stage of the disease, a cat infected with feline leukemia may experience:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Gradual weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Eye disorders
  • Pale gums or inflammation of the gums
  • Poor coat
  • Anemia
  • Skin, bladder or upper respiratory tract infections
  • Seizures
  • Behavioral changes
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Diagnosis and Treatment

Feline leukemia is diagnosed via a blood test that detects a protein found in the virus. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the disease. Many infected cats die within two to three years of being diagnosed. Although there is no treatment for feline leukemia, symptoms can be treated to keep your cat more comfortable. If weight loss is a problem, nutritional supplements will help your cat receive necessary nutrients. Your cat may get sick more often because of his weakened immune system, but these infections can often be treated with antibiotics.

Prevention

The FeLV vaccine will help prevent your cat from developing feline leukemia, but it does not offer an absolute guarantee that your cat will never get the virus. The best way to protect your furry friend is to keep him or her indoors. When cats roam, they are more likely to come in contact with infected cats that may transmit the virus through a bite.

Before you bring a new pet into your home, make sure that it has been tested for the feline leukemia virus. If one of your cats does develop the virus, separate it from your other cats to prevent the spread of the disease.

Has your cat had an examination and feline leukemia shot recently? If not, give us a call to schedule an appointment.