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Feline Leukemia Life Expectancy and Prevention

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Today we turn our attention to feline leukemia life expectancy. This is a sensitive subject, but one it’s important to address so you can better protect your cat.

I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one.  Mark Twain

In this 3-part cat series, the first question I answered was: what is feline leukemia?. Next, I discussed the symptoms of feline leukemia and the causes and spread of this deadly viral cat disease.  This third and final part is about the Feline Leukemia Life Expectancy, Prognosis, and Prevention.

All of this information will hopefully help answer any questions you have about this deadly cat disease.  Why?  Because my sole aim is to help you be an informed pet owner for your much loved best friend. Please read on to learn more about the serious cat disease, feline leukemia.

Feline Leukemia Life Expectancy

As previously discussed, feline leukemia (FeLV) is a highly contagious disease of cats that greatly reduces their life expectancy.  While healthy indoor cats will live about 15 years on average―with some living well past 20 years―cats infected with FeLV don’t fare so well.

That’s good news for vaccinated cats and those who love them, but not so great for unvaccinated cats infected with FeLV. Long term, healthy survival is rare for vulnerable cats infected with this virus.  In fact, very few non-vaccinated cats will survive for more than three years post infection.  The quality of life for infected cats is not really great either as the symptoms are many and most are miserable.

Feline Leukemia Prognosis

As noted above, the likely course for non-vaccinated FeLV infected cats is typically a painful existence and premature death.  The average duration of FeLV from infection to death is just over three years.  But, not all cats will prematurely die from FeLV or associated diseases that result from FeLV-caused immunity depression.  According to the professional vet site, dvm360.com, there are actually three active stages of FeLV.

These are:

Stage 1: Abortive FeLV which happens when an infected cat survives the disease with no harmful effects. The cat does this by ridding itself of the viral infection thus becoming asymptomatic.

Stage 2: Regressive FeLV in which case the virus is temporarily detected in the blood but later disappears from the blood. In this case, the cat does not become sick from FeLV or its related diseases. However, the FeLV viral DNA may imbed in the cat’s cellular chromosomes. This means the cat might become a carrier of FeLV although it will not be sick itself.

Stage 3: Progressive FeLV infected cats can actively infect other cats during any close contact such as playing, fighting, grooming, etc. Transmission will occur via their saliva, mother’s milk, nasal discharges or bodily waste.  Infected cats can also passively infect other cats through shared dishes, brushes, scratching posts, grooming tables, pet carriers, etc.

Feline Leukemia Prevention

There is no cure for feline leukemia.  And, while unvaccinated cats of all ages can catch FeLV, baby kittens are the most at risk. It’s noteworthy that the infection risk to adult cats appears to lessen as they grow older. Kittens, however, are born without any inherent viral protection. They must receive all of their antibodies passively through the mother’s colostrum within hours of their birth.

If the mother cat has not been vaccinated for FeLV or been previously exposed to this virus, then her colostrum will not have these specific antibodies.   All pet cats―especially mother cats and all cats that are allowed outside―should be vaccinated for FeLV to assure some immunity.

As noted, feline leukemia can especially affect kittens. They can get it from their mother or from their contaminated environment.  Regardless, kittens are particularly vulnerable so they should be tested and vaccinated for feline leukemia at weaning.

In this three-part series I’ve covered much of what is known about feline leukemia. I’ve touched upon the disease causes, symptoms, life expectancy, prognosis, and its prevention.  I hope it has been informative to all of you.  But, more than that, I hope that it has encouraged you to test and vaccinate your pet cats and kittens. When you know that feline leukemia life expectancy is just 3 years, it becomes more urgent than ever to protect your cat.

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