Feline Leukemia Virus (FELV)
Veterinarian Reviewed on January 31, 2012 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
FELV is a disease that is common in cats. It is caused by a retrovirus that is found world-wide. FELV infections reduce the ability of the cat’s immune system to protect itself from secondary infections with bacteria, viruses or fungal agents. The prevalence of FELV varies from area to area. FELV is not contagious to humans, only other cats. It is transmitted by contact with infected body fluids such as saliva, blood, urine or semen. Most cats are infected from bite wounds, mutual grooming, and contaminated litter boxes. The virus can be passed to unborn kittens by a pregnant, infected queen.
Any cat can get FELV but the infection rate is highest in intact, outdoor male cats who tend to fight defending territory. A cat that has FELV can live for months or years after diagnosis, dependent on care that he/she receives.
When cats are first infected with FELV they may show no signs at all. Many times signs do not appear until the disease is advanced. Early signs may include decreased grooming or just “ not feeling right”. Some of the signs of more advanced infections are weakness, weight loss, pale gums, sores in the mouth, loss of appetite, diarrhea, abscesses or enlarged lymph nodes. These signs can be caused by conditions other than FELV so it is important to have your veterinarian examine your cat and test him for FELV.
A blood test for FELV is the only way to know for sure if your cat has the disease. Early detection will help prevent the spread of disease and allow you to help your cat manage his disease. There is no treatment for FELV, but if your cat has it, there are things you can do to help him. Keeping your cat inside and away from other cats will prevent the spread of the disease and keep your cat from being exposed to secondary infectious agents. You can use immune stimulants to support the immune system. One such supplement is Immune SURE for Feline Immune System Support.
Prevention is really the key to dealing with FELV. All kittens should be tested when they are adopted and before they go to a home with an existing cat. Keep cats indoors to prevent exposure and fighting. Spaying and neutering helps prevent fighting, roaming and sexual transmission of this virus. Isolation of a FELV positive cat is recommended. If you do not know the FELV status of your cat, be sure to get him tested at your next wellness visit.
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for 28 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan