Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Overview of Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Feline leukemia virus, commonly abbreviated as FeLV and called “fe-leuk”, is a viral disease of domestic cats that impairs immune system function and causes some types of cancer. FeLV is transmitted by bite wounds, shared dishes or litter pans, or close contact (grooming). Kittens can be born with FeLV or acquire the virus through their mother’s milk.

Below is an overview on Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) followed by in-depth detailed information on the diagnosis and treatment of this condition.

The average age of infection is 3 years and male cats may have a higher prevalence of infection than female cats. The rate of FeLV infection is higher in multi-cat households, catteries and urban areas with high cat populations. The FeLV infection rate ranges from 2 to 13 percent in the general cat population.

FeLV is destroyed in the environment within minutes. There is no evidence of transmission of FeLV from cats to humans. The course of FeLV infection is variable, and there are 3 main stages of infection.

Approximately 33 percent of FeLV-infected cats are infected briefly but are able to eliminate the virus within 4 to 6 weeks. Such transiently infected cats do not become ill or develop FeLV-related disorders.

What to Watch For

Diagnosis of Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatments. Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize FeLV, and exclude other diseases. Tests may include:

Treatment of Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Home Care

Administer as directed any medications prescribed by your veterinarian. Provide high quality nutrition and schedule regular follow-up visits with your veterinarian to monitor your cat’s condition.

All FeLV-infected cats should remain indoors to decrease exposure to other cats. Isolate FeLV-infected cats from FeLV-negative cats.

Preventative Care

Feline leukemia virus is an infectious disease that can be prevented primarily by eliminating interactions with infected cats. Recommendations include:

Vaccination against other diseases should be discussed with your veterinarian. If yearly vaccinations are given, only killed vaccine products (those composed of killed virus rather modified live virus) should be used to avoid complications in FeLV-infected cats with potentially weakened immune systems.

Antibiotics should be administered to FeLV-infected cats before preventative dentistry to minimize the risk of secondary bacterial infection.

In-depth Information on Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Other medical problems can lead to symptoms similar to those encountered in FeLV-infected cats. It is important to exclude these conditions before establishing a diagnosis of FeLV infection.

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:

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:

Treatment In-depth

Treatment of FeLV infection must be individualized based on the severity of the condition and other factors that must be analyzed by your veterinarian. If your cat has no clinical signs, no treatment may be recommended. In this situation, regular follow-up visits to your veterinarian are important to evaluate your cat for possible progression of disease. If FeLV-induced disease is present, additional treatments may be necessary.

There is no effective treatment that will eradicate established FeLV infection. Supportive care is important, and may include:

Drug Therapy for Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Follow-up Care for Cats with Feline Leukemia Virus

Optimal treatment for your pet requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be crucial and may include the following:

The “Test and Remove” strategy is a method to eliminate FeLV-positive cats from catteries or multiple cat households and includes the following: