What is Feline Leukaemia Virus
Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) is a virus specific to cats only. The virus works by attacking the immune system, making affected cats more susceptible to other infections, as well as being more susceptible to developing cancer. It cannot be transmitted to other species such as dogs or humans.
How does your cat catch the virus?
FeLV is transmitted via saliva, mucous, urine, faeces and blood. This means mutual grooming, sharing of food +/or water bowls and sharing litter boxes are the most likely methods of transmission. The virus does not survive well in the external environment so prolonged intimate contact is required. An infected queen will infect her litter of kittens. Some cats are able to mount an immune response and overcome the virus in the initial stages. In cats that don't successfully destroy the virus it moves into the bone marrow where it can 'hide' for many years before destroying the immune system of the cat.
What signs should I look for?
The signs can be extremely varied as the virus makes the body susceptible to a whole range of diseases and infections. The clinical signs often include lethargy, weight loss, poor general health, recurrent infections of different types or cancer. Signs may not be distinguishable from those of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. An in-house blood test is available to screen your cat for FeLV, this test is however not always diagnostic due to the nature of the disease.
What treatments are available?
Unfortunately there is no specific treatment. Once your cat is sick there is only supportive treatment available for the various problems your cat develops. As a consequence the emphasis is on prevention of the disease and limiting its spread rather than treatment.
Is there a vaccine?
There is now an excellent vaccine available to help protect your cat. This vaccine is an optional extra which can be given in conjunction with the regular vaccinations for feline cat flu and enteritis. Kittens need two vaccinations which can be given at the same time as the normal 12 and 16 week injections. Adults not previously vaccinated also need 2 initial injections but a blood test should be performed first to ensure they don't already have the disease. After this booster injections are given yearly with the regular booster vaccination.