Feline Leukemia Virus Infection (FeLV) in Cats
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a disease that impairs the cat's immune system and can cause cancer. This viral infection is responsible for too many deaths in household cats, affecting all breeds. The good news is that it is completely preventable. The bad news is that most cats with FeLV live only a few years after their diagnosis.
Symptoms and Types
Cats with FeLV may not show any signs, even for years. Some of the more common symptoms of feline leukemia include:
- Progressive weight loss
- Susceptibility to infection
- Persistent diarrhea
- Infections of the external ear and skin and poor coat condition
- Fever (seen in about 50 percent of cases)
- Wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken-appearing gait or movement
- Generalized weakness
- Inflammation of the nose, the cornea, or the moist tissues of the eye
- Inflammation of the gums and/or mouth tissues (gingivitis/stomatitis)
- Lymphoma (the most common FeLV-associated cancer)
- Fibrosarcomas (cancer that develops from fibrous tissue)
Cat leukemia is usually contracted from cat-to-cat transmission (e.g., bites, close contact, grooming and sharing dishes or litter pans). It can also be transmitted to a kitten at birth or through the mother's milk. Kittens are much more susceptible to the virus, as are males and cats that have outdoor access.
If your cat is ill, your veterinarian will first rule out other infections such as bacterial, parasitic, viral or fungal. In addition, nonviral cancers need to be ruled out.
A simple blood test is available to determine whether your cat has FeLV.