Hello! Nigel, here! As an older brother, it is very important that I take good care of my younger sibling, Cecil. He is quite a slob, so frequent bathing and grooming is necessary to keep him looking his best. Lucky for the both of us, Dr. S and Dr. J have had us tested for illnesses that we could potentially pass to one another while enjoying one of our mutual preening sessions. And that is what I would like to talk to you about today.
As cat guardians, there are certainly many concerns that you may have in regards to the health and well-being of your feline friends. I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but there are some rather troubling diseases out there that can cause problems for us cats. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is one such disease that we need to discuss. FeLV is mainly transmitted through saliva and requires close and prolonged contact between cats. This can occur from a bite wound, during mutual grooming, and rarely through shared use of litter boxes. This virus can also be passed from a mother cat to her kittens, either before they are born or while they are nursing. In the United States, it is estimated that 2 to 3 % of cats are infected with FeLV. Cats with the highest risk for contracting FeLV are those that live with infected cats or with cats of unknown infection status, cats allowed outdoors unsupervised, and kittens born to infected mothers. Kittens contract this disease at much higher rates than adult cats, as cats seem to gain some natural immunity to the disease as they age. Nonetheless, even healthy adult cats can become infected if sufficiently exposed.
You may be wondering what exactly having the FeLV virus means for the cat. Unfortunately, this virus can cause problems for your kitty’s body in many ways. FeLV virus causes the immune system to become weakened, which can make your cat much more likely to develop infections from bacteria, parasites, fungi and other viruses. Where a healthy cat may have no problem fighting such illnesses off, a cat with FeLV can have difficulty clearing these infections. Cats with FeLV are also more likely to develop cancers and blood disorders.
So..that leaves us with what to do about it! Once your cat has contracted FeLV, it is permanent. The best thing to do is to prevent the infection in the first place. All cats…ALL CATS…should be tested for FeLV when they are kittens. If they are negative, then they should be vaccinated as this is the time of a cat’s life when it is most susceptible for acquiring the infection. Testing for this disease is very easy and takes only a few drops of blood obtained with a tiny needle. At For Cats Only, the doctors recommend testing for FeLV yearly as part of your cat’s health exam.
Go ahead…say it…I know you want to ask………come, on…
“But Nigel, my cat never goes outside….Why does he need a test every year?”
I’m glad that you asked! Most cats that contract FeLV do so when they are very young…often before they have even come to adopt a human family. Some cats who contract the disease will clear it. Others will test positive and be persistently infected, though showing no signs. There is a third group that contracts the virus, has no symptoms and the virus then hides and goes to sleep inside of the cat’s bone marrow. This group of “carrier” cats can test negative for years. At a time of a stress, the virus can reactivate and start multiplying. This is why a cat that previously tested negative but had no exposure to other cats, can suddenly test positive. It is important to know the status of your cat each year, as whether they are positive for FeLV can change medical decisions the doctors make for them in regards to medicines and vaccinations.
If you have any questions you would like to ask about FeLV please don’t hesitate to give Dr. Stephanie and Dr. Jeff a call. They would be happy to explain all about this virus and how you can protect your cat masters from this problem.
That’s all for today. This is Nigel, signing off! Meow