Learn the facts about feline leukemia – Sharing one’s life with a companion animal can be a testament to a person’s capacity to love and offer affection. Millions of people welcome cats into their homes, enjoying their playful antics and cheeky personalities. While cat owners should be aware of the many responsibilities associated with caring for cats, they also need to educate themselves about feline leukemia, a common and infectious disease.
Learn the facts about feline leukemia
Feline leukemia virus, or FelV, is one of the most common illnesses affecting cats. The Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine says that FelV affects between 2 and 3 percent of all cats in the United States. Infection rates can be higher in cats that are ill or at high risk. In fact, FelV is second only to trauma as the leading cause of death in cats.
Although WebMD states that FelV can result in fatality in 85 percent of persistently infected felines within three years of diagnosis, education can help pet owners recognize risk factors and symptoms and possibly reduce rates of infection and death.
Feline leukemia transmission
FelV only affects cats and cannot be transmitted to people or other animals. FelV is passed from one cat to another through bodily fluids, including blood, saliva, and to some extent, urine and feces. Kittens can contract the disease in utero or through their mothers’ milk. Fighting among cats and grooming one another are among the most common ways that the infection spreads.
Cats that live with other cats of unknown infection status and those who are allowed to roam around outside unsupervised are at a higher risk than others.
Signs of infection
In the early stages, FelV may produce no symptoms. However, Cornell’s Feline Health Center says that, over time, cats’ health will begin to deteriorate, and they will exhibit periods of illness and then wellness. Signs of the disease can include:
- Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and mouth (stomatitis)
- Infections of the skin, urinary bladder and upper respiratory tract
- Persistent diarrhea
- Seizures, behavioral changes and certain neurological disorders
- Loss of appetite
- Progressive weight loss
- Poor coat condition
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Persistent fever
If not conquered by the cats immune response, the virus can cause diseases that can be lethal, such as a form of cancer of the blood cells called lymphoma. Leukemia and anemia are other fatal results of this incurable condition.
Prevention and detection
The only confirmed way to protect cats from FelV is to prevent their exposure to infected cats. Blood testing can determine if feline leukemia is present in an animal. Although there are some therapies to help with symptoms, currently there are no cures for FelV. Vaccination may help, but it is not guaranteed to prevent FelV.
Feline leukemia is a threat to all cats. Highly contagious and pervasive, FelV should be a concern for cat owners whose cats are at elevated risk of contracting the disease.
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