What is Feline Leukemia?
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a virus that causes gradual immunosuppression that deters your cat’s immunity system the ability to protect itself from infections. During the early stages, after your cat gets infected, they may still have a responsive immune response. However, as the disease progresses, your cat’s immunity may get very low and make your cat susceptible to other infections.
However, most cats after contracting the virus can go for months or even years without the virus causing them problems. Even though they do not show any signs, they may infect other cats through body fluids. The virus is easily spread through saliva when cats share feeding and water bowls or groom each other. Thus, FeLV is easily transmitted from one cat to another and a major cause of malignant tumors in cats. FeLV is a major cause of cancer and other blood disorders in cats. Also, research shows that it is the second major cause of death in cats. The virus mainly causes cancers and lymphoma in cats.
Once the cat’s immune system is weakened by the virus, they may experience persistent infections. Thus, the cat may suffer recurrent illnesses associated with the virus. Most importantly, a cat’s exposure to the virus does not mean they have to die from it. It is not a death sentence.
Most cats exposed to the FeLV can resist infection and eliminate the virus from their system on their own. Hence, they will recover and develop immunity. These cats are known as having a regressive infection with the virus. Therefore, they will not succumb to FeLV related illnesses.
Related: Feline Herpesvirus Life Expectancy
Can a cat with Feline Leukemia live with other cats?
Feline Leukemia is easily transmitted from one cat to another through body fluids. When a healthy cat comes into contact with an infected cat’s saliva, blood, or urine, they will get the virus too. Thus, when cats groom each other or fight, they are likely to transmit the virus.
Cats sharing food bowls and water bowls are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. Additionally, outdoor cats and young kittens are at a higher risk too. Also, kittens can contract the virus from their mother while in the uterus or through their mother’s milk. However, Feline Leukemia does not affect humans, dogs, or other animals. However, the availability of FeLV vaccines has reduced its prevalence in the last 25 years.
Signs that a cat has contracted the Feline Leukemia Virus
To know if your cat has the virus, you will need to take him to the vet. Mostly, vets offer “ELISA Blood Test”. This test is rapid, cost-effective, and very reliable. It detects a protein that is usually found in the blood of a cat that is infected with the virus.
After the test, your vet may recommend a follow-up test that is conducted 3-4 months after the first test. Usually, the cost of the FeLV test depends on where you live and the type of test you want. In most cases, the price ranges between $25-$50 for the regular test and $50-$100 for the advanced tests. Even though feline leukemia is not completely curable, supportive and palliative care ensures that a cat lives a fulfilling life.
A cat with FeLV may show one or more of the following symptoms:
1. Pale/ Yellow gums
FeLV may cause the cat’s gums to appear pale and yellowish. Also, a cat may develop oral problems such as stomatitis which may cause their gums to become inflamed and ulcerated. Therefore, your kitty may not be able to feed well due to pain in their mouth.
2. Respiratory problems
When the virus affects the chest, your cat may experience recurrent upper respiratory system infections. Thus, he may develop signs like coughing, gagging from the phlegm produced in their chests, wheezing, and runny nose. In severe cases, your cat may experience breathing difficulties.
3. Digestive problems
The FeLV, when it settles in your cat’s stomach, may cause digestive problems including excessive gas, diarrhea, and vomiting. Therefore, the cat may experience vomiting and diarrhea regularly and also lose appetite. Call your vet immediately if your cat with FeLV vomits and diarrheas. You will need to encourage him to drink water to prevent dehydration.
Read Also: What Can You Give a Cat for Diarrhea?
4. Loss of appetite and weight loss
FeLV may cause appetite changes in your cat. Therefore, you will find that a cat that was feeding well starts to lose appetite. In turn, this may result in weight loss. Usually, loss of appetite is the first sign that your cat could have the virus.
Loss of appetite may result in your cat losing weight. As a cat parent, you should be concerned if you notice your cat’s appetite has changed. Cats with FeLV need to feed well to maintain a strong immune system to help them fight off infections.
5. Body weakness and lethargy
When the cat’s body is affected, leukemia may manifest itself in several ways including malignant tumors. Thus, they may negatively affect the cat’s immunity system and cause a decline in their overall health. Therefore, the cat may become weak and appear lethargic. Thus, they will appear restless and sleep more than often.
6. Recurrent infections
Feline Leukemia Virus weakens the cat’s immune system. Thus, the cat will be vulnerable to many infections due to a weakened immunity system. These infections include urinary system infections, respiratory system infections, and stomach problems. Also, the cat may get swollen lymph nodes and their coat may appear dull and unhealthy.
You will need to take your cat for examination at least twice a year. This will help diagnose secondary infections soon and get treatment early before they advance and become fatal for your furry baby. It is advisable to keep infected cats indoors and spay/neuter them if they had not undergone the procedure yet. This will help in controlling the spread of the virus to other cats.
Ways of protecting your cat from Feline Leukemia
1.Keep your kitty indoors
Ensuring that your cat stays indoors is a sure way to ensure that they do not contract the virus. However, there may be instances where your cat may sneak and access the outdoors. In this case, if your cat tends sneaking out, get them vaccinated against the FeLV.
In multicats households, newcomers should be tested before they are introduced to other resident cats. However, most veterinarians advise against introducing a FeLV negative cat to a household with a FeLV positive cat. Not only would they cause stress to the sick resident cat, but they would also be at a high risk of contracting the virus.
2. Get your cat vaccinated against the virus
Vaccinating your cat from the FeLV will protect them against the virus. Cats with a high risk of exposure such as cats in the shelters and outdoor cats should be vaccinated. Before receiving the vaccine, they will need to be tested first to ensure that they have not been exposed to the virus.
Kittens are more prone to contracting the virus than adult cats. Cats develop immunity against the virus as they get older. Therefore, get your young kittens vaccinated.
Read Also: Introducing Cats to Each Other Quickly
Signs that a cat is going through the final stages of Feline Leukemia
The warning signs of feline leukemia vary from one cat to another. Usually, it depends on the cat’s overall health status, lifestyle, and where the virus is attacking the cat’s body. During the final stages of feline leukemia, a cats immunity system is sever compromised leaving prone to many infections
Here are signs of final stages of Feline Leukemia
- Constant respiratory system infections
- Lymph nodes inflammation
- Severe weight loss
- Constant diarrhea and vomiting
- Loss of coordination
- Malignant tumors and cancers
- Extreme lethargy and difficulty getting up and moving around
Related: How to Help a Dying Cat
Caring for a cat with Feline Leukemia
1.Feed highly digestible food
Minimally processed food has enzymes that ease aid in food digestion. Also, food with vegetables, cranberries, and blueberries are rich in antioxidants that would help build a strong immunity system for your cat. Additionally, these foods have probiotics that are very helpful to cats experiencing digestive issues.
Moreover, ensure that the food you give your FeLV positive cat has a high-quality animal protein as the first ingredient. This is because they are easy to digest and they also help build strong muscles for your cat.
Furthermore, ensure that the food you give your cat is grain-free, has no meal by-products, artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors. Providing proper nutrition to your cat is key to slowing the progression of feline leukemia.
2. Go for organic foods
It is important to ensure the food that your cat eats is free from chemicals and pesticides. Not only do these organic compounds affect FeLV positive cats, but also healthy cats.
Therefore, to ensure that your cat has no exposure to herbicides and pesticides in their food, go for organic foods. These are foods grown without the use of chemicals and are very healthy for your cat.
3. Provide clean and freshwater at all times
Adequate water intake is paramount for all cats. It ensures that the cats stay well hydrated and their body functions work well. Therefore, ensure that your cat has access to clean water at all times. You can achieve this by ensuring that there are adequate water bowls with clean filtered water throughout your house.
4. Ensure their environment is free from toxins
If your cat accesses your yard, ensure that you avoid using chemical insecticides on it. This is because, when your cat is at your yard, they may inhale the toxic chemicals and cause them health problems including kidney, liver, respiratory and digestive problems. Instead of using the harsh chemicals, go for natural pest control for your lawn and yard.
Also, when in they are indoors, ensure that there is a high-quality air purifier cleaning the air. This will ensure that they breathe in clean air free from impurities and toxins.
5. Avoid over the counter drugs
Cats need antibiotic treatments especially when they get an infection. Antibiotics are used to treat urinary infections. However, when used repeatedly they may leave your cat susceptible to other infections.
Therefore, use antibiotics only when prescribed by the vet and do not exceed the duration when the cat should take them. Avoid self-medicating your furry baby. If you have any doubt, call your vet for advice.
Exercise is important for your cat. It helps improve immunity and also prevents lifestyle problems such as obesity and diabetes. For indoor cats, ensure that you provide enough climbing trees and scratching posts.
Also, create time to play with them to ensure that they get enough exercise. Overweight cats are prone to other health problems including diabetes which would pose a high risk to cats whose immune system is already compromised by FeLV.
7. Minimize stress for your kitty
Stress affects animals just like humans. It weakens their immune system. Ensure that your kitty lives in an environment with no stressors. For instance, if you are driving to the vet or moving houses, you can use a calming collar for cats.
The pheromones in the cat collars are similar to those produced by the mother cat. They calm your cat and reduce their anxiety. If your cat already has FeLV, avoid introducing another cat to the household. It may make them stressed since cats are territorial animals and worsen the situation.
8. Limit vaccinations
It is important to vaccinate your kitty to protect them from dangerous diseases such as Feline Leukemia, Rabies, and Feline Herpes Virus. However, over-vaccinating your kitty may pose a huge health risk to them. As the saying goes “Too much of anything is poisonous”. This too applies to vaccinations.
Too many vaccinations may result in tumor development (fibrosarcomas) in cats at the point of administration. Also, your cat may develop other chronic disorders associated with over-vaccinating such as Vaccinosis. Consult your vet on the vaccination plan and the number of vaccines your cat needs.
9. Use high-quality natural flea and tick treatment
It is vital to administer flea treatment to your cat. Severe flea infestation is not only uncomfortable for your cat but also poses health risks such as anemia. However, avoid cheap flea treatments for your cat as they could have harmful chemicals that would affect your kitty’s immunity. Go for high-quality flea treatments from well-known companies that are tried and tested.
10. Give supplements that will help improve their immunity
Providing beneficial supplements on top of healthy cat food with help in improving your cat’s immunity. For instance, Salmon oil is a supplement that has healthy oils that promote healthy skin and coat for your cat. Besides, they improve your cat’s immunity level hence your cat will fight opportunistic infections quickly.