FELINE LEUKEMIA and FIV in CATS
WHAT IS FELINE LEUKEMIA?
Feline leukemia isn't simply one disease, but many different disease problems all caused by the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). The virus is highly contagious and is the leading infectious killer of cats. The virus can cause leukemia, lymphosarcoma (lymph node cancer), bone marrow cancer, other types of cancer, respiratory disease, reproductive failures and fading kitten syndrome. There is no effective cure only experimental therapies.
WHAT IS FIV?
FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) is a relatively new and less common viral illness. There is a vaccine produced for this disease but its use is debatable. Many cats harbor the virus for months after being infected before disease develops. Symptoms include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, diarrhea, inflammation of the lips and gums, upper-respiratory infections that persist for long periods and behavioral changes. Treatment is usually not effective although AZT and a few experimental therapies are sometimes tried.
HOW DO CATS CATCH FELINE LEUKEMIA OR FIV?
These virus are highly contagious from cat to cat through feces, urine, saliva and other bodily secretions. Cat fights are a common culprit although kittens can contract the diseases from their mothers in several ways.
WHAT HAPPENS TO CATS INFECTED WITH FeLV or FIV?
Over 50% of cats infected with FeLV will develop symptoms of illness within 2 years, and as many as 80% will die within 3 years. Three recognized courses, however, are noted to occur: a few cats will fight off the infection and survive; most cats, as noted above, will become ill and die or be euthanized; and a small percentage will not be seriously ill but carry and harbor the virus and spread the disease to other cats! These cats may be kept as pets but should be isolated and never allowed to roam free.
Cats with FIV will be ill with unexplained fever, enlarged lymph nodes, diarrhea, inflammation of the lips and gums, upper-respiratory infections that persist for long periods and don't respond well to treatments. Some cats will have unusual behavioral changes. Likewise, cats with FIV should not be allowed to roam and should be kept as isolated pets.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF FeLV or FIV?
As noted above, FeLV and FIV can cause many different disease entities, so there is no exact set of symptoms that are purely indicative of either disease. These viruses are much like the human AIDS virus, although people cannot be infected, and multiple unusual problems can occur. Symptoms may include weight loss, poor coat, loss of appetite, anemia, diarrhea, weakness, reproductive disorders, gum inflammation, enlarged lymph nodes, fever and recurrent or persistent infections.
IS THERE TREATMENT IF MY CAT HAS FeLV or FIV?
Currently we have only experimental treatments and supportive care, which has helped a few cats recover. If your cat is infected we would be happy to discuss these with you. Prevention is still the best route to follow.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY CAT HAS EITHER OF THESE VIRUSES?
A simple 10 minute blood test that we can perform in our office is available.
ARE INDOOR-ONLY CATS SAFE?
To some extent, indoor cats do have a decreased risk of infection, but many cats can pick up the virus earlier in life, even from the mother cat, and have an infection without showing symptoms! In cases where there are multiple cats in one household, the risk also is greater. Dr. Day advises testing all cats and any new cat before it is brought into your home. This is what he does with his cats. (plus he vaccinates them as well!)
IS THERE PREVENTION FOR THIS KILLER?
YES! First have your cat tested. As long as it does not have the virus, they can receive the
leukemia vaccine. A booster will be needed 4 weeks later, and then just once yearly. As long as you keep up the yearly vaccine, your cat should remain free of FeLV. There is an FIV vaccine but the use of such is under debate. Dr. Day vaccinates all of his cats for FeLV even though they are indoors and advises the same for all cat owners.
IS IT POSSIBLE FOR A CAT VACCINATED FOR FeLV TO GET THE ILLNESS?
Unfortunately, yes, but the odds of this rare occurrence are very low. A rare form of the illness that hides in the bone marrow can cause cats that have been tested and vaccinated to become ill, usually later in life. Rest assured, this problem is very uncommon.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES MY CAT WILL GET FELINE LEUKEMIA OR FIV?
Over 1 million cats die yearly from FeLV infections. (USA) The incidence of FIV is in the hundreds of thousands. To determine your cat's risk, take the following test, keeping score as you go.
1. My cat is, always indoors (1), always outdoors (3), indoor/outdoor (2)
2. My cat is in contact with, no other cats (0), 1 cat (1), 2 cats (2), 3 cats (3), 4 or more cats (4).
3. My cat came from, FeLV/FIV certified free parents (0), some other source (2)
4. My cat seems, 100% healthy (1), seems feverish (2), is lethargic (2), has lost weight (3), is not
eating well (3), has vomiting or diarrhea (4).
5. My cat is, under 1 year old (1), 1-5 years old (3), over 5 years old (1).
6. My cat has, not been ill within the last year (0), has been ill within the last year (2).
7. My cat, has been tested negative for FeLV/FIV and vaccinated within the last year (-15), has not been tested negative and vaccinated (2).
If you score 0-4 your cat is low risk, 5-15 moderate risk, and anything above 15 indicates high risk for FeLV and/or FIV infection.