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What is Feline Leukemia?

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We all want to take the best care we can of our pets and so if you have been asking ‘What Is Feline Leukemia?’ and how can I protect my cat from this disease, you are in the right place. Read on for our lowdown on the cause of this disease and what can be done to protect your cat.

Today’s post is for very special pet lovers―CAT PARENTS. That’s right, but I’m not just writing about cats in general. Today’s post is all about the disease Feline Leukemia.  This is a very serious, species-specific, highly contagious, usually fatal―yet preventable―cat disease.

This article series has been especially written for all cat lovers because it’s about the cause, spread, symptoms, and prevention of feline leukemia. So, if you are a cat fancier (whether or not you like football), or if you just want to learn more, then please read on.

What is Feline Leukemia?

Cause of Feline Leukemia

Feline leukemia is caused by a highly contagious virus (FeLV) that specifically infects cats.  It does not cross over to infect dogs, people, or any other species.  Feline leukemia is typically spread from infected cats to other cats.

Feline leukemia is a virus (FeLV) and it doesn’t care:

  • What your cat’s breeding is
  • About your cat’s diet or foods
  • If your cat lives in your home or roams outside
  • About the neighborhood, town, state, or country you and your cat live in

Does Age Matter?

Yes, a cat’s age does matter in the majority of cases.  Most cats that get the disease do so at a young age.  Most infected cats don’t survive beyond 3 years after being infected.  However, it is thought that a cat’s natural immunity to FeLV infection increases with age.  Although it is possible that FeLV asymptomatic adult cats may carry and pass the disease on to their offspring or to other young cats.

Can Feline Leukemia Be Cured?

No, there is no cure.  But, your young cat can be tested for the disease and protected from future FeLV infection by proper vaccination.  Your veterinarian will recommend this as part of the kitten’s first exam and vaccination protocol.  If you’ve taken in a young adult cat, then you should have it tested and vaccinated for FeLV.  But, always ask your vet first and follow his or her recommendation.

Spread of Feline Leukemia

So, how does a cat get feline leukemia?  Infected pet cats and feral cats can readily spread this disease to unvaccinated cats via their saliva, nasal discharges, mother’s milk, urine, and feces.  Thankfully, the virus only survives for a few hours outside of the infected cat’s body.  This means that litter boxes, sleeping areas, scratching posts, and cat dishes are not major virus spreaders.

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, FeLV has greatly declined in the last 30 years. However it still infects 2-3% of the known U.S. pet cat population and it is usually a death sentence for those afflicted cats.

Unfortunately, there is no reliable infection or mortality data for infected feral cats.  Those cats are a major concern of every animal control unit and every pet vet. It’s also an obvious health problem for unvaccinated pet cats.  This is a very good reason to vaccinate your pet cats and kittens.

More To Come

In conclusion, there is a lot of information to cover on this important feline leukemia topic. It simply can’t be done well in one short article. Because of that, I’m going to present more posts about this serious cat disease.  Cat parents stay tuned―I’ll soon be writing about the transmission, life expectancy, prevention and symptoms of feline leukemia.

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