Feline leukemia

Cats and leukemia virus

Feline leukemia is an immunodeficiency virus affecting cats. It is contagious and spreads easily in multi cat households through mutual grooming, sharing of food and water bowls and fighting.

Testing positive for leukemia does not have to be a death sentence for your cat. A percentage of cats (20-30%) will clear themselves of the infection. Cats that test positive should be retested 6 weeks later. It can take up to one years for cats to rid themselves of the infection. Cats can live with a leukemia infection without showing signs of clinical illness. Cats that are clinically ill can show signs of respiratory infection such as sneezing, showing of the3rd eyelid, pale gums and inappetence. Because the virus causes immunosuppression, cats may also suffer from other diseases that their bodies are not able to fight off such as persistent bladder or gum infections.

What can you do if your cat is diagnosed with feline leukemia? Unfortunately to date there is no cure for leukemia virus infection. Cats need to be kept as healthy as possible through good nutrition and immune stimulation. Cats are carnivores that evolved in a desert environment. Ideally, they should be fed on a quality high protein diet that is also high in moisture. It is better for cats to be on a wet food diet than a dry food diet. Care needs to be taken if you are switching your cat from one diet to another as cats will literally starve themselves to death, with a good nutritious bowl of food in front of their noses, if that food is unfamiliar to them or they simply don’t like it. Antiviral drugs commonly used for human HIV have not been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of leukemia infection in cats.

It is always good to know the status of all cats in a multi cat household. Most vet clinics stock a quick simple in-house test and you should have results in 10 min. All the vet will need is a drop of blood from your cat. If none of your cats are positive, careful consideration needs to be taken when introducing a new cat to the household. It is advisable to test new cats before introducing them into your household. Cats that are allowed outdoors should be vaccinated, especially in high population environments like security complexes. The virus cannot survive for long in the environment and is easily destroyed by disinfectants, soap heating or drying. Feline leukemia virus cannot be transmitted to humans.

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