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Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatments.

Diagnosis In-depth

Certain diagnostic tests must be performed to confirm the diagnosis of FeLV infection and exclude other diseases that may cause similar symptoms. Tests may include:

  • A complete medical history and a thorough physical examination. Special attention will be paid to the color of the mucous membranes including the gums, lymph node size and the presence of any signs of bacterial infection.

  • Blood tests for other infectious diseases of cats such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). The symptoms of FIV infection are very similar to those of FeLV infection.

  • Tests for feline infectious peritonitis (FIP),feline toxoplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis. These diseases of cats also have symptoms that may resemble those found in FeLV-infected cats.

  • A complete blood count (CBC or hemogram) to evaluate your cat for anemia, low platelet count, inflammatory or infectious diseases, and cancer of blood cells.

  • A biopsy or fine needle aspirate on enlarged lymph nodes or solid tumors to obtain a sample for microscopic examination.

    Your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests to exclude or diagnose other conditions, or to better understand the impact of FeLV on your pet. These tests insure optimal medical care and are selected on a case-by-case basis. Examples include:

  • Serum biochemistry tests. These tests evaluate the impact of FeLV infection on other organ systems (e.g. liver, kidney) and evaluate the general health of your pet. They usually are normal in cats infected with FeLV.

  • Urinalysis to evaluate kidney function, identify protein loss in the urine and determine if urinary tract infection is present. Urinalysis usually is normal in cats infected with FeLV.

  • Thoracocentesis is a procedure in which fluid is withdrawn from the chest cavity using a syringe and needle. It is used to relieve difficult breathing in cats with accumulation of fluid in the chest and to obtain a fluid sample for cyotologic analysis. Cats with FeLV infection and a form of cancer called "thymic lymphosarcoma." Other diseases that may cause accumulation of fluid in the chest in cats include pyothorax (an infection causing accumulation of purulent material in the chest), chylothorax (an accumulation of fluid that is high in fat content in the chest), heart failure, and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).

  • Abdominal paracentesis is a procedure in which fluid is withdrawn from the abdomen using a syringe and needle. This procedure is used to obtain fluid for microscopic analysis, which may facilitate diagnosis.

  • X-rays of the chest may be recommended in cats with difficulty breathing ("dyspnea") or abnormal findings that your veterinarian may hear by listening to the cat's chest with a stethoscope. Chest x-rays may show fluid accumulation or pneumonia caused by secondary bacterial infection.

  • Microscopic evaluation of bone marrow samples may be indicated in cats with severe anemia, low white blood cell count, or low platelet count. In some instances, FeLV infection can cause decreased production of red cells by the bone marrow and occasionally tumor cells may invade the bone marrow and crowd out the blood cell precursors normally found in the marrow.

  • Cerebrospinal fluid analysis may be recommended in FeLV-infected cats that have symptoms of neurologic disease. Microscopic and chemical analysis of cerebrospinal fluid may identify infectious agents, inflammatory cells, or cancer cells.

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