Feline leukemia is caused by feline leukemia virus, but depending on the sub-type of virus present, it can cause diseases other than leukemia, such as tumors, lymphoma (the most common FeLV associated cancer), and other abnormal growths and least commonly, anemia. The virus suppresses the immune system and as a result, infected cats may show variable clinical signs such as recurring or persistent infections, abscesses, inflammation of the gums and other tissues of the mouth, fever, and lethargy. Kittens are most susceptible to the virus when exposed, but by six to eight months of age the immune system matures and it becomes “harder” to become infected. The virus is transmitted through saliva and blood, therefore grooming, nose-to-nose contact, shared food and water bowls, and bites are common modes of transmission. An infected queen can infect kittens through the placenta, via milk, or saliva.
In the early stages of infection the virus enters the tonsils, then lymph nodes, and enters the circulation. This process takes about a month until cats will have detectable virus in the blood stream. Therefore, if you suspect your cat has been exposed, you have to wait about one month before testing. Later the virus moves into bone marrow cells and this takes 6-8 weeks after the initial infection. There is a latent form of infection in which cats are healthy, but the virus can reactivate at any point in its lifetime. Then, of course, there are cats that always have virus in an active stage and over 50 percent of these cats will succumb to related diseases within two to three years after infection. There are several testing methods available to you through your veterinarian.
It is recommended that all kittens be vaccinated against FeLV as feline leukemia is almost entirely preventable with two kitten vaccines and a booster one year later. Cats that go outdoors and may have contact with other cats should be vaccinated. Adult cats can be tested prior to vaccination but vaccinating a positive cat will not change the progression of disease nor make it less likely for it to infect other cats. Vaccination is recommended for multi-cat households where new cats are frequently introduced and in households with a FeLV positive cat. New cats should be tested prior to introduction to a FeLV negative cat.
Valley Oak SPCA Low-Cost Spay and Neuter Clinic:
9405 West Goshen Avenue
Visalia, CA 93291
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Monday, Thursday, Friday: 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sunday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
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