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Feline Leukemia

Feline Leukemia Virus

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is a common cause of illness and death in cats.  It is the cause of a variety of different diseases, not just leukemia.  Feline Leukemia invades and replicates in various cells of the cat's immune system and blood-forming cells.  The result can be death of the cell or change in its genetic code.  Such a change can make this cell potentially cancerous and lead to cancerous diseases.  The cancerous change may not occur for months or years after the infection. 


FeLV-infected cells and cancers can occur in a variety of tissues, organs, and body sites.  The most common is that of the lymphoid cells known as lymphoma. Although the development of cancer is one outcome of FeLV infection, other diseases more commonly develop.  In many cats, FeLV suppresses the immune system and the cat is less able to defend itself against infections which normally wouldn't cause a problem in healthy cats.  A variety of signs or symptoms develop in infected cats and there is a progressive deterioration in health over time.  FeLV is usually fatal.  80-90% of FeLV-infected cats will pass away within 3-4 years of initial diagnosis. 

Direct contact between cats is the most frequent method of FeLV infection.  The virus is found in cats' saliva as well as other bodily secretions and excretions such as urine and feces.  Various activities aid in transmitting the disease, such as mating, mutual grooming, sharing of litter trays and food bowls, and cat bites.  It may also be transmitted from a mother to her kittens. The only clear way to diagnose FeLV is through a special blood test that looks for viral proteins of the disease in the blood. 

Jane Animal Hospital recommends that all cats that may have been exposed at any point in their lifetime be tested at least once.  A vaccination against FeLV is also available.  We recommend it to be given to all cats at risk at the time of their yearly examination and vaccinations.  Early detection of infection will enable you to manage the disease, maintain the health of your cat, and will also help to prevent the spread of disease to other cats.

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