Feline leukemia virus is a disease that affects approximately 3% of American cats. The virus is a retrovirus, which means that it inserts its genetic material into the cells that it infects. Then when the cells divide, they reproduce the genetic material of the virus along with their own. This allows the virus to spread quickly throughout the cat’s body.
The virus is spread from cat to cat. The infected cat spreads the virus through saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces, and milk. New cats can be infected through being bitten by an infected cat. Since the virus is spread through saliva, grooming can cause an infection. Also, shared litter boxes can cause the virus to spread. This is rare, however, because the virus does not live long once it leaves the cat. In order to be spread through the litter box, the cats would need to use the litter box within an hour of each other.
Cats have different levels of susceptibility to feline leukemia virus. Age is one risk factor. Both kittens and older cats are more likely to become infected. Kittens can be infected if they have an infected mother. As a cat ages, however, they develop some resistance to the virus. Also, outside cats are at risk because they are exposed to other cat populations and can be bitten by an infected cat.
Feline leukemia virus causes many problems for the cat, because the main affect of the virus is a weakening of the immune system. This can lead to cancer, blood disorders, and an inability to fight off common infections. Common infections lead to death in many cats with feline leukemia virus.
How do you determine if your cat has feline leukemia virus? It is difficult to determine, but most cats exhibit a loss of appetite, weight loss, and poor coat condition. As the disease progresses they can develop inflammation of the gums, diarrhea, and neurological problems, such as seizures. A cat that appears to be in overall poor health may have the virus.
Feline leukemia virus is diagnosed using a blood test. There is no current treatment for infected cats. If you have a cat that is infected with the leukemia virus, the best thing you can do is to keep them from catching a secondary infection. Be careful with the foods that you feed the cat, and avoid contact with other cats. In multi-cat households, the owner needs to have the other cats tested. Any cats that are infected need to be separated from non-infected cats in order to keep the virus from spreading. Infected cats need to visit the veterinarian twice a year to have their skin, gums, lymph nodes, and eyes checked for problems associated with the virus. The life expectancy of an infected cat is anywhere from a few months to three years. It is extremely important to watch the cat for signs of secondary infections, because this is the most common cause of death.
One of the best ways to avoid having your cat infected by the feline leukemia virus is to avoid contact with strange cats. Keep your cat indoors, if possible. If your can needs to be outdoors, keep an eye on him. Do not let your cat wander without supervision. As with most pet diseases, prevention is the best plan of action in keeping your pet healthy and ensuring that you have him with you for many years!