Feline Leukemia

I know I have been silent for the past month, but that does not mean that I have not been busy. Actually, Chewbakka and I have been doing a lot of research into feline illnesses and today I want to talk a little about FeLV or Feline Leukemia Virus.

Unlike Leukemia in humans caused by a DNA mutation which activates oncogenes or genes that cause cancer, FeLV is a viral infection that attacks and weakens the feline immune system thus hindering a cat’s ability to protect itself against secondary infections, akin to what happens with FIV or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, causing the development of secondary conditions like liver and kidney diseases, anemia, intestinal disorders, etc. Although FeLV is more contagious than FIV, transmission requires moist intimate contact, mostly through saliva.

In order to diagnose or screen for FeLV, veterinarians use the ELISA test (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay), a test also used to detect HIV in humans., which can detect FeLV is its early stage before the virus invades the marrow and when the cat’s immune system has the best chance of warding off the virus. Should the cat test positive, the veterinarian can opt to have the IFA (Immunofluorescence Assay) test  performed which can determine if, indeed, the virus has invaded the marrow, in which case the cat is considered permanently infected with FeLV.

As with FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) and FIV, there is no specific treatment for FeLV, only supportive care directed at keeping the immune system strong and preventing secondary diseases. Careful monitoring both by the owner and the veterinarian can help stave off problems early. Keeping an FeLV positive cat away from other household cats, will help stop the spread of the disease.

How do you prevent FeLV? First and foremost make sure your cat is vaccinated, and keep them indoors or restrict their outdoor access to a secured enclosure. Have all new cats tested for FeLV before introducing them to the rest of your feline family. 

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