All Pets Veterinary Clinic
Feline leukemia is an incurable viral disease that can affect cats. It is estimated
that 1/3 of the cats that come into contact with this virus will die. The remainder
of this article will focus on the spread, signs, diagnosis, and prevention of this disease.
Spread. The virus that causes feline leukemia can be spread in several ways.
Since the virus is readily shed in saliva and respiratory secretions, fighting between
cats or close contact can spread the virus. The virus can also be spread to kittens
across the placenta or in the milk.
Signs. Signs can vary from none, early in the disease, to very severe signs,
later in the progression of the disease. The virus can infect almost any organ or organ
system, including the bone marrow, esophagus, stomach, bladder, respiratory tract, and
salivary glands. This can result in mouth and gum infections, skin infections, ear
infections, chronic respiratory infections, and intestinal infections. Because the
feline leukemia virus causes immunosuppression, an infected cat can become unable to
fight off diseases that it could normally protect itself against.
Diagnosis. There are many rapid diagnosis tests available. A small blood sample
is all that is needed to determine if a cat has feline leukemia.
Treatment. There is no treatment for feline leukemia. Supportive therapy for
infections as they arise, such as fluids, antibiotics, etc., may help to prolong the
life of a feline leukemia positive cat.
Prevention. There are several vaccines available on the market for the prevention
of feline leukemia. Currently, the feline leukemia vaccinations are not perfect in
preventing feline leukemia in all cats that have been vaccinated. However, non-vaccinated
cats are twice as likely to become permanently infected with the virus. Keeping cats
indoors, away from the stray cat population that generally carries the disease, is the
best preventative measure you can take. Any new cat brought into a home should be
isolated from other cats until tested and found to be negative for feline leukemia. If
you have had a cat die from feline leukemia, it is recommended to wash or dispose of all
bowls, toys, bedding, etc. since they may serve as a source of infection to another cat.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not
intended to take the place of your regular veterinarian. Please do not hesitate
to contact your regular veterinarian if you have questions regarding your pet.
Karen Blakeley, DVM, MPH
13 December 2002