June 30th, 2023
FIV and FeLV
WHAT IS FELINE LEUKEMIA?
FeLV (Feline Leukemia) isn't simply one disease, but many different disease problems all caused by the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). The virus is highly contagious and is the leading infectious killer of cats. The virus can cause leukemia, lymphosarcoma (lymph node cancer), bone marrow cancer, other types of cancer, respiratory disease, reproductive failures and fading kitten syndrome.
WHAT IS FELINE IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS?
FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) is a relatively new and less common viral illness. There is a vaccine produced for this disease but its use is debatable. Many cats harbor the virus for months after being infected before the disease develops. Symptoms include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, diarrhea, inflammation of the lips and gums, upper-respiratory infections that persist for long periods and behavioral changes. Treatment is usually not effective although AZT and a few experimental therapies are sometimes tried.HOW DO CATS CATCH FeLV OR FIV?
These diseases are highly contagious from cat to cat through feces, urine, saliva and other bodily secretions. Cat fights are a common culprit although kittens can contract the diseases from their mothers in several ways.
WHAT HAPPENS TO CATS INFECTED WITH FeLV or FIV?
Over 50% of cats infected with FeLV will develop symptoms of illness within 2 years, and as many as 80% will die within 3 years. Three recognized courses, however, are noted to occur. A few cats will fight off the infection and survive however, most cats, as noted above, will become ill and die or be euthanized and a small percentage will not be seriously ill but carry and harbor the virus and spread the disease to other cats! These cats may be kept as pets but should be isolated and never allowed to roam free. Cats with FIV will be ill with unexplained fever, enlarged lymph nodes, diarrhea, inflammation of the lips and gums, upper-respiratory infections that persist for long periods and don't respond well to treatments. Some cats will have unusual behavioral changes. Likewise, cats with FIV should not be allowed to roam and should be kept as isolated pets.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF FeLV or FIV?
As noted above, FeLV and FIV can cause many different disease entities, so there is no exact set of symptoms that are purely indicative of either disease. These viruses are much like the human AIDS virus, although people cannot be infected, and multiple unusual problems can occur. Symptoms may include weight loss, poor coat, loss of appetite, anemia, diarrhea, weakness, reproductive disorders, gum inflammation, enlarged lymph nodes, fever and recurrent or persistent infections.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY CAT HAS EITHER OF THESE VIRUSES?
A simple 15 minute blood test can be performed in your vets office.
ARE INDOOR-ONLY CATS SAFE?
To some extent, indoor cats do have a decreased risk of infection, but many cats can pick up the virus earlier in life, even from the mother cat, and have an infection without showing symptoms! In cases where there are multiple cats in one household, the risk also is greater.
IS THERE PREVENTION FOR THIS KILLER?
YES! First have your cat tested. As long as it does not have the virus, they can receive the leukemia vaccine. A booster will be needed 4 weeks later, and then just once yearly. As long as you keep up the yearly vaccine, your cat should remain free of FeLV.
IS IT POSSIBLE FOR A CAT VACCINATED FOR FeLV TO GET THE ILLNESS?
Unfortunately, yes, but the odds of this rare occurrence are very low. A rare form of the illness that hides in the bone marrow can cause cats that have been tested and vaccinated to become ill, usually later in life. Rest assured, this problem is very uncommon.