I have gotten the worst news today that has sent me spiraling into a depression. You will have to excuse me if I slack a bit on the posts for the next couple days since I haven’t been too happy about this news. My kitty “Skittles” (she is half Siamese, half Persian and gorgeous) has Feline Leukemia. It is in the 1st stage of the virus and could live 3 more healthy years (on the bright side) but that doesn’t mean she will. You wouldn’t even be able to tell she had anything wrong with her as she looks and acts the same as she ever did. The bad news came from a regular Vet checkup. It’s good that it was caught early because the 2nd stage only means bad things for our furry friends. I have decided to post a few facts about this virus for everyone’s information… it will show also what to look for (as in signs)… although I would urge everyone to just bring their pet for regular checkups because my baby isn’t showing any signs at all but she still tested positive.
What is Feline Leukemia Virus?
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), a retrovirus, so named because of the way it behaves within infected cells. All retroviruses, including feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), produce an enzyme, reverse transcriptase, which permits them to insert copies of their own genetic material into that of the cells they have infected.
How common is the infection?
FeLV-infected cats are found worldwide, but the prevalence of infection varies greatly depending on their age, health, environment, and lifestyle. In the US approximately 2 to 3% of all cats are infected with FeLiv. Rates rise significantly – 13% or more – in cats that are all, very young, or otherwise at high risk of infection.
How is FeLV spread?
Cats persistently infected with FeLV serve as sources of infection. Virus is shed in very high quantities in saliva and nasal secretions, but also in urine, feces, and milk infected cats. Cat-to-cat transfer of virus may occur from a bite wound, during mutual grooming, and (although rarely) through the shared use of litter boxes and feeding dishes. Transmission can also take place from an infected mother cat to her kittens, either before they are born or while they are nursing. FeLV doesn’t survive long outside a cat’s body – probably less than a few hours under normal household conditions.
What does FeLV do to a cat?
Feline Leukemia virus adversely affects the cat’s body in many ways. It is most common cause of cancer in cats, it may cause various blood disorders, and it may lead to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat’s ability to protect itself against other infections. The same bacteria, viruses, protocoa, and fungi that may be found in the everyday environment – where they usually do not affect the healthy animals – can cause severe illness in those with weakened immune systems. These secondary infections are responsible for many of the diseases associated with FeLV.
What are the signs of disease caused by FeLV?
During the early stages of infection, it is common for cats to exhibit no signs of disease at all. However over time – weeks, months or even years – the cat’s health may progressively deteriorate or be characterized by recurrent illness interspersed with periods of relative health. Signs may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Slow but progressive weight loss, followed by severe wasting late in the disease process
- Poor coat condition
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Persistent fever
- Pale gums or other mucus membranes
- Inflammation of the hums (gingivitis) and mouth (stomatitis)
- Infection of the skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract
- Persistent diarrhea
- Seizures, behavior changes, and other neurological disorders
- A variety of eye conditions
- In unspayed female cats, abortion of kittens or other reproductive failures
What are the two stages of FeLV infection?
FeLV is present in the blood (a condition called viremia) during two different stages of infection:
Primary Viremia, and early stage of the virus infection. During this stage some cats are able to mount an effective immune response, eliminate the virus from the bloodstream, and halt progression to the secondary viremia stage.
Secondary Viremia, a later stage characterized by persistent infection of the bone marrow and other tissue. If FeLV infection progresses to this stage, it has passed a point of no return: the overwhelming majority of cats with secondary viremia will be infected for the remainder of their lives.
How can I keep my cat from becoming infected?
The only sure way to protect cats is to prevent their exposure to FeLV infected cats.
- Keep cats indoors, away from potentially infected cats that might bite them. If you do allow your cat outdoor access, provide supervision or place them in a secure enclosure to prevent wandering and fighting.
- Adopt only infection-free cats into households with uninfected cats.
- House infection-free cats separately from infected cats, and don’t allow infected cats to share food and water bowls or liter boxes with uninfected cats.
- Consider FeLV vaccination of uninfected cats (FeLV vaccination of infected cats is not beneficial). Discuss the advantages of vaccination with your veterinarian. FeLV vaccines are widely available, but since not all vaccinated cats will be protected, preventing exposure remains important even for vaccinated pets. FeLV vaccines will not cause cats to receive false positive results on ELISA, IFA or any other available FeLV tests.
I hope this has helped inform you of the risks out there and to seriously consider getting your cat vaccinated. I never thought it would happen to my cat and it did. She hardly left the yard when she went outside, she was a scaredy cat about roaming around the neighborhood, and still she caught it. Please do me a favor and check on your cat… if everyone took better care and diagnosed their cat, this wouldn’t be becoming more of a common problem. I now have to keep Skittles indoors and worry about her getting all sorts of infections bringing her to the vet every few months. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.
This is my skittles… her eyes are light blue, so it’s hard to get a good photo of her eyes looking normal:
She also loves to sit on your shoulder like a bird ever since she was a kitten. Here she is with my boyfriend… chilling on his shoulder: