A cat cuddles with its owner

No matter how many advances we make in veterinary medicine, there are some diseases and conditions that continue to remain out of our reach. Even in this age of advanced medical developments, feline leukemia is one of those diagnoses that we feel somewhat helpless against. 

Understanding This Devastating Disease

Leukemia is a fairly well-recognized term, but it’s important to understand that feline leukemia and human leukemia are not exactly the same thing.

Leukemia in people is caused by a cancerous process in the blood. Leukemia in cats, however, is the result of infection with feline leukemia virus (FeLV). This virus is a retrovirus, similar to HIV in people. 

FeLV is found in the saliva and body fluids of an infected cat. It can be passed on to a new host via close contact during grooming, fighting, or even to kittens through their mother. Many cats who are exposed to the virus are able to mount an immune response and fend it off. Some, however, succumb to the virus which may hide in the body for up to years after exposure before causing illness. About 10% of infected cats harbor the dormant virus in their bone marrow. 

At some point, the virus becomes active and begins to suppress the immune system. Its activity results in cancerous activity in the affected tissues. During early infection symptoms may be vague or non-existent, however eventually cats with feline leukemia will exhibit symptoms that may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Chronic infections
  • Neurologic problems
  • Ocular abnormalities
  • Digestive disturbances

With no known cure for the disease, once a cat is diagnosed with feline leukemia survival time is about two years on average. 

Waging War on Feline Leukemia

Feline leukemia is scary, but all hope is not lost. You do have some power in being sure that your cat is protected. In a disease that has no cure, prevention is critical. 

With feline leukemia being the most common infectious disease in cats, it is not one to ignore. Any cat who might be exposed to other cats is at risk. Don’t ignore the fact that cats can sneak outdoors unplanned, meet other cats through your screens, or that you might someday be tempted to bring home a poor kitten in need. 

Action is key. All cat owners should:

  • Confirm all cats in their home are negative for FeLV via blood testing on a regular basis
  • Keep cats indoors and/or supervise outdoor activity when possible
  • Keep up on routine wellness care and recommended vaccinations
  • Vaccinate all cats under two years of age, those who go outdoors, and those who are immunocompromised against feline leukemia
  • Avoid introducing new cats into the home without a visit and blood test

Feline leukemia is the top cause of deaths by infectious disease in cats each year. Feel free to call us today to find out what you need to do to better protect your pet and find out if we recommend vaccination for your circumstances. Goldorado Animal Hospital is here for you and is happy to help in any way we can, no matter the diagnosis.