What Is the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)?

Although Uitsig Animal Rescue Centre is predominately known for its work with Dogs, we also have a cattery at the Centre housing over 70 felines who have crossed our paths through the same sad circumstances.  These Cats are cared for and protected by Uitsig just the same, and also waiting to find their forever homes.

It’s odd to imagine that so many cats would live in unison with each other considering the expression we commonly use of  “cat fights” but these do.  It is as if they know, here they will be safe and they sense what is required of them to fit in.

We have a group of volunteers who are ‘more than’ feline friendly, who have been given the names in the past of the Crazy Cat Ladies, the Mad Catters and other such like but to us they are fondly known as the “Kit Kat Club”.  These ladies undertake to assist the Centre in socialising with the cats on Saturdays ensuring that everything is up to scratch!

These ladies have been raising funds for the purpose of mass testing all those in our care for Feline Leukaemia/Aids (FelV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).  In February of this year we raised sufficient funds to test those in residence but due to the window period required (6 months), retesting now needs to take place but once again they have proven to us to be the “cat’s whiskers” ensuring that this gets done.

After the testing has been completed, all healthy kitties will be vaccinated against Feline Leukaemia and we are happy to say that the first round of vaccinations have been kindly donated by a cattery volunteer and a corporate sponsor, Simply Something Promotions; “A BIG Thank You”.

A second round of vaccinations will be required one month later.

If you’d like to support this initiative and help us fundraise for the next set of vaccinations, please consider donating to the Uitsig Feline Fund.  Alternatively email: Nickyd.uitsig@gmail.com for more information.

One vaccination costs approximately R110.00 so our Kit Kat Club ladies aim to raise enough to cater for at least a hundred kitties.

It is important to Uitsig  to ensure that when an animal is adopted from the Centre all relevant testing and vaccinations have been done so that when they are placed in your care they are healthy and fit and destined to live out a full and happy life so please help us to change lives ONE by ONE.


What Is the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)?

First discovered in the 1960s, feline leukemia virus is a transmittable RNA retrovirus that can severely inhibit a cat’s immune system. It is one of the most commonly diagnosed causes of disease and death in domestic cats. Because the virus doesn’t always manifest symptoms right away, any new cat entering a household—and any sick cat—should be tested for FeLV.

How Do Cats Get FeLV?

The FeLV virus is shed in many bodily fluids, including saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces and blood. FeLV is most commonly transmitted through direct contact, mutual grooming and through sharing litter boxes, food and water bowls. It can also be passed in utero or through mother’s milk.

Outdoor cats who get into fights with other cats can transmit the disease through bites and scratches. It should be noted that healthy cats over three months of age and vaccinated for FeLV are highly unlikely to contract the virus from another cat.

What Are the Signs of FeLV?

  • Cats can be infected and show no signs.
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Pale or inflamed gums
  • Poor coat condition
  • Abcesses
  • Fever
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Changes in behavior
  • Vision or other eye problems
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Reproductive problems (in females)
  • Jaundice
  • Chronic skin disease
  • Respiratory distress
  • Lethargy

How Is FeLV Diagnosed?

There are several types of tests available to diagnose FeLV. Most veterinarians and shelter professionals use the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test, which detects antigen to the FELV virus in the bloodstream. Other tests like the IFA (indirect fluorescent antibody) test or PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test are recommended to confirm positive ELISA test results.

What Happens to Cats Who Are Infected With FeLV?

FeLV weakens an animal’s immune system and predisposes cats to a variety of infections and diseases, including anemia, kidney disease and lymphosarcoma, a highly malignant and fatal cancer of the lymph system.

Which Cats Are Prone to FeLV?

Young kittens and cats less than one year of age are most susceptible to the virus. Cats who live with an infected cat, cats who are allowed outdoors where they may be bitten by an infected cat, and kittens who are born to a mother who is FeLV positive are most at risk for infection.

My Cat Has FeLV. How Can I Make Her Feel Better?

  • Feed your cat a nutritionally balanced diet, one free of raw meat, eggs and unpasteurized dairy products, which can harbor bacteria and parasites and lead to infection.
  • Provide a quiet place for your cat to rest indoors and away from other cats who could promote disease.
  • Bring your cat to the vet every six months—at the very least—for a wellness checkup and blood tests.

My Cat is FeLV-Positive But Symptom-Free. Can I Get Another Cat?

During the early stages of infection, a cat may not show any clinical signs, but he can still pass the virus to other cats. It’s not advisable to introduce a new uninfected cat into the household, even one who has been properly vaccinated against FeLV. Those living in close quarters with affected cats are most at risk for infection, and should be tested for the virus and, if negative, be housed separately.

Can Other Pets Catch FeLV?

Yes, FeLV is contagious to other cats, but not to humans or other species. Other cats in the house can acquire the virus from an infected cat. Though the virus doesn’t live long outside of the body, and is easily inactivated with common disinfectants, it can be passed through shared food and water as well as common litter boxes.

How Is FeLV Treated?

Sadly there is no cure for FeLV, and it is estimated that less than 20 percent of clinically infected cats survive more than three years of active infection. In the case of those cats that develop cancer, chemotherapy can help prolong life, but treatment often focuses on providing the best quality of life.

How Can FeLV Be Prevented?

There is a vaccine available for cats who are at risk of contracting FeLV. Like all vaccines, there are risks involved in vaccination, and the vaccine is not a 100-percent guarantee against infection. Your veterinarian can best evaluate whether this vaccine is right for your cat. As with any infectious disease, the best prevention is eliminating sources of exposure. Routine FeLV testing and keeping your cat indoors and away from cats whose FeLV status is not known remain the best way to prevent your cat from becoming infected. Cats who are infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) may not show symptoms until years after the initial infection occurred.

Although the virus is slow-acting, a cat’s immune system is severely weakened once the disease takes hold. This makes the cat susceptible to various secondary infections. Infected cats who receive supportive medical care and are kept in a stress-free, indoor environment can live relatively comfortable lives for months to years before the disease reaches its chronic stages.

Many people confuse FIV with feline leukemia virus (FeLV).

Although these diseases are in the same retrovirus family and cause many similar secondary conditions FeLV and FIV are different diseases.

What Are the Symptoms of FIV?

An FIV-infected cat may not show any symptoms for years. Once symptoms do develop, however, they may continually progress –or a cat may show signs of sickness interspersed with health for years. If your cat is demonstrating any of the following symptoms, please have examined by your veterinarian:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Disheveled coat
  • Poor appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnormal appearance or inflammation of the eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis)
  • Inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis)
  • Dental disease
  • Skin redness or hair loss
  • Wounds that don’t heal
  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from eyes or nose
  • Frequent urination, straining to urinate or urinating outside of litter box
  • Behavior change

How Is FIV Transmitted?

FIV is mainly passed from cat to cat through deep bite wounds, the kind that usually occurs outdoors during aggressive fights and territorial disputes—the perfect reason to keep your cat inside. Another, less common mode of transmission is from an FIV-infected mother cat to her kitten. FIV does not seem to be commonly spread through sharing food bowls and litter boxes, social grooming, sneezing and other casual modes of contact.

Which Cats Are Most Prone to FIV?

Although any feline is susceptible, free-roaming, outdoor intact male cats who fight most frequently contract the disease. Cats who live indoors are the least likely to be infected.

Can a Person Catch FIV from a Cat?

No. FIV cannot be transmitted from cat to human, only from cat to cat.

What Should I Do If I Think My Cat Has FIV?

If you suspect your cat has FIV, have him examined and tested by your veterinarian right away. During your visit, be ready to describe any symptoms that you have detected, no matter how minute they seem. Also make sure to keep your cat indoors, away from other felines who might possibly be infected or whom he could infect, until you have a diagnosis.

How Is FIV Diagnosed?

FIV infection is routinely diagnosed by blood testing. The FIV status of every cat should be known. The most common type of test looks for the presence of antibodies to the virus in the blood. No test is 100-percent accurate all of the time, and your veterinarian will interpret the test result and determine whether further testing is needed to confirm either a positive or negative test result. Once a cat is determined to be FIV-positive, that cat is capable of transmitting the disease to other cats. Since it is possible for an infected mother cat to transfer FIV antibodies to her kittens, these kittens may test positive from their mother’s antibodies until they have cleared them from their systems, which happens by six months of age. Therefore, kittens who test positive for FIV antibodies when they’re younger than six months should undergo antibody tests again at a later date to see if they are infected.

How Is FIV Treated?

Unfortunately, there is no specific antiviral treatment for FIV. Cats can carry the virus for a long time before symptoms appear. Therefore, treatment focuses mainly on extending the asymptomatic period or, if symptoms have set in, on easing the secondary effects of the virus. Your veterinarian may prescribe some of the following treatments:

  • Medication for secondary infections
  • Healthy, palatable diet to encourage good nutrition
  • Fluid and electrolyte replacement therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Immune-enhancing drugs
  • Parasite control How Do I Care for My FIV-Infected Cat?
  • Keep your cat indoors. This will protect him from contact with disease-causing agents to which he may be susceptible. By bringing your cat indoors, you’re also protecting the uninfected cats in your community.
  • Watch for changes—even seemingly minor—in your cat’s health and behavior. Immediately report any health concerns to your vet.
  • Bring your cat to your vet at least twice per year for a wellness checkup, blood count and urine analysis.
  • Feed your cat a nutritionally balanced food—no raw food diets, please, as bacteria and parasites in uncooked meat and eggs can be dangerous to immune-compromised pets.
  • Be sure your cat is spayed or neutered.

The FAQ section of this post has been taken from http://www.aspca.org/