The similarities of the humble housecat to the world’s largest cat species become clear when visits to vets are needed. We realise cats can run 40 km/h over short distances. And that yes, cats can jump five times their own body length. Whether your cat loves, hates or is indifferent about the whole vet experience, a trip might result in some bad news. One of the most diagnosed conditions is Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV).
If your cat’s been diagnosed with FeLV, take solace in the fact that it does not mean a death sentence. Statistics show that 70% of cats are able to resist the virus with the right care and a little extra love. And that cats can live happy and wonderfully fulfilling lives with a few lifestyle adjustments. Here’s what you need to know about FeLV.
What is Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)?
FeLV is not cancer although symptoms might be similar. It’s a virus that infects the white blood cells of cats only and weakens the immune system. It is not the same as cat AIDS.
White blood cells are the immune system’s fighter cells. The leukaemia virus enters the tissue where white blood cells are made, including lymph tissue and bone marrow, and then attacks the blood cells. White blood cells are vitally important in fighting and protecting the cat from invaders called pathogens.
FeLV compromises these cells, putting a cat at risk of infection, cancer (specifically leukaemia), and sometimes shortens its lifespan.
Cats that are living with FeLV are then also predisposed to respiratory, skin, and urinary tract infections. While FeLV is a serious and often fatal disease, cats can live long, and excellent quality lives with regular vet checks and a healthier lifestyle.
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) transmission
Cats who roam the outdoors and live in crowded areas are most at risk of contracting FeLV. The virus is transmitted from one cat to another through their faeces, mucous, saliva, and urine.
It is not very contagious and is spread by cats who groom one another, mate, and those who share food and water bowls, and litter boxes. The same goes for cats who fight and bite each other. However, a cat might need to be exposed to the virus a few times to get infected.
Kittens are considered high-risk and can be born with FeLV if their mother is positive. If not through the womb, they will most likely contract the virus when their mother grooms or breastfeeds them.
Not all cats that are exposed to FeLV will continue to develop further infections in the body. Approximately 20–30% of cats experience what is called ‘Abortive Infection’. This is when the virus is eliminated from the body before it can spread.
30–40% of cats who contract the virus will have ‘Regressive Infection’. This means that it has spread to organs and bone marrow, affecting the immune system.
‘Progressive Infection’ happens in the remaining 30-40% of cats. Here, the virus spreads to lymph nodes, bone marrow and other organs. These cats will most likely develop FeLV-related diseases. These cats handle the transmission of the virus as it continues to multiply in their body.
Note: the virus is not transmissible to humans or other animals.
How is Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) diagnosed?
Your vet can diagnose Feline Leukaemia Virus with a simple blood test. The higher the infection rate, in the case of a ‘Progressive Infection’, the quicker and easier it is to detect.
In the case that a cat has an ‘Abortive Infection’, it may be more difficult to detect. False negatives may occur in the test results. If FeLV is suspected, the test should be repeated after 30 days.
It is recommended that a test be done annually, especially for outdoor cats, and cats that live in crowded areas with neighbouring cats. Cats that have been in fights or that are ill should also be tested regularly.
How to treat Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)
Unfortunately, there is no cure for FeLV.
The virus is preventable by vaccine. Speak to your vet about a good vaccine schedule. It is important to have your cat tested for FeLV before administering the vaccine.
Secondary infections are treated accordingly, and as they appear. As a responsible pet owner, you will need to decide when it is time to call your vet and humanely euthanise your cat. This will be due to the secondary diseases your cat may acquire as a result.
Many cats lead long and healthy lives with supportive treatment which works on strengthening the immune system, to prevent, and then treat opportunistic infections.
Vets have found using immune modulators beneficial for cats with FeLV. Anima-Strath is a proven immune enhancer and modulator. It should be used over the long term and in higher doses to enhance its benefits.
This natural Swiss-made product comes with several scientific studies which prove how it strengthens the immune system, and how it promotes an optimal immune response.
Anima-Strath assists with maintaining a good appetite. It also helps your cat to absorb six times the amount of nutrients from its food. It, therefore, leads to a better quality of life for infected cats. It keeps your cat healthy and more resilient from secondary infections too.
Top tips for healthier and happier cats
- Vet check-ups are crucial. Do so every six months to assess the virus as well as check for any signs of a secondary infection or disease-related disorders.
- Instil a proper feeding schedule and balanced diet with the help of your vet. Lower salt content which is better for the kidneys. Avoid giving your cat human food as treats. Avoid raw eggs, meat and fish, and anything that has onions and garlic, chocolate, and raisins.
- Give your cat fresh water not milk. Cats are lactose intolerant as they don’t have the enzyme called lactase in their intestines to digest the sugar in milk.
- Groom your cat regularly by brushing them gently in the direction of the fur to remove excess hair once a week. Excess fur can create intestinal blockages from fur balls. The bonding time will give you a chance to check on their skin condition, and for parasites such as ticks and fleas.
- Keep a litter tray inside the house and keep it clean. The litter tray must be kept fresh and changed regularly.
- Fortify the immune system with a reputable nutritional supplement, and immune modulator such as Anima-Strath.
Preventing Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)
Vaccination is the safest means of preventing a cat from becoming infected by FeLV. This is especially important for cats who are allowed outside, and for kittens as they are most susceptible to infection.
Please speak to your vet about a vaccine schedule. A one-time vaccination is not sufficient nor guaranteed to prevent FeLV.
Cats should be tested for FeLV before being given the vaccine. Vaccinating an already infected cat can progress the virus even further as the immune system is strained.
Healthy cats should not be allowed to roam. They should be kept indoors, especially if you live close to other cats.
Do not allow your cat to come close to another cat that you know has tested positive for FeLV, or one who has an irresponsible owner that does not vaccinate their cat.
Responsible pet ownership includes preventing your infected cat from spreading FeLV to other cats in your area. Cats with the virus should be spayed or neutered. It is the responsible and kind thing to do.
It is said that the cat has nine lives – three for playing, three for straying, and three for staying. May those last three lives with you be especially healthy, happy, and filled with love.
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- Feline leukemia virus (2023) PetMD. Available at: https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/infectious-parasitic/feline-leukemia-virus-felv
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) symptoms, vaccine, treatment (2022) WebMD. WebMD. Available at: https://pets.webmd.com/cats/facts-about-feline-leukemia-virus
- Feline leukemia virus disease complex: VCA Animal Hospital Vca. Available at: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feline-leukemia-virus-disease-complex
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