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FeLV in cats: what is it?
FeLV in cats: what is it?

You have certainly heard the term repeatedly FeLV in cats, even to your vet at the time of the first vaccinations. You will then have guessed that it is a disease, for which it is necessary, as well as mandatory, to vaccinate your cat. But specifically, what is FeLV in cats?

What is FeLV

There FeLV is a serious infectious disease and deadly, affecting the immune system of the cat and which can cause cancer. This disease is also known as Feline Leukemia Virus, from which the abbreviation FeLV derives. FeLV is a retrovirus, that is, a virus that affects cells, not destroying and multiplying them as other viruses usually do, but rather, hiding inside them and reproducing without being detected by the immune system. For this reason, FeLV reaches very high mortality rates. In fact, most infected cats have a life expectancy of between many weeks and 3-4 years depending on the stage of the disease at the time of its diagnosis. Unfortunately, for FeLV, as well as for FIV (feline immunodeficiency, also retrovirus) and FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) there is no cure, but the disease is, fortunately, preventable.

How FeLV contagion occurs

There FeLV is transmissible from cat to cat very easily, for this very reason it is a very common disease, especially in stray cats, in those who live outdoors and in kittens. The infection occurs through saliva, blood, urine or secretions, and is also possible during the initial phase of the disease during which no symptoms occur. Disease transmission can also occur from mother to kitten during pregnancy and through the breast milk. For this reason, kittens are more susceptible to the virus, as are male cats and cats in general who have free access to outdoor areas.

mother cat licks kitten
mother cat licks kitten

What are the symptoms of FeLV

Cats with FeLV may not even show any symptoms for years. FeLV affects the cat's body in various ways, is the most common cause of cancer and can lead to a state of immunodeficiency that hinders the ability to protect themselves from other infections. For this reason, bacteria, viruses and fungi, which do not usually affect healthy cats, can cause serious illness in FeLV-infected cats.

The main symptoms of FELV in cats or of the Feline Leukemia Virus are:

  • Anemia
  • Lethargy
  • Progressive weight loss
  • Greater susceptibility to infections
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Infections of the skin and the outer part of the ears
  • Hair in bad condition
  • Persistent fever
  • Respiratory infections
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Bladder infection
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Uncoordinated body movements
  • Loss of balance
  • Staggering gait
  • Weakness
  • Inflammation of the nose or eyes
  • Gingivitis
  • Stomatitis
  • Lymphoma
  • Fibrosarcoma

FeLV therapy and prevention

vet visits a cat
vet visits a cat

Unfortunately there is no cure for FeLV, and most of the infected cats die within a few years after diagnosis. There therapy it is therefore directed to relieve symptoms, often through drugs corticosteroids. If the cat has no symptoms at the time of diagnosis, then no treatment is needed outside of a balanced diet.

The most effective method for prevent the contagion of FELV is to keep infected cats separate from healthy ones. It is also important to prevent the disease through administration of the FeLV vaccine even in cats that live purely in a domestic environment. Before administering the vaccine, however, it is important to subject the cat to test necessary to make sure that the disease has not already been contracted.