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The Not-So-Dynamic Duo: FeLV and FIV in Cats

July 18, 2017, by Community Pet Hospital

Is your cat at risk for contracting infectious diseases? Felines who have exposure to other cats, be it from exploring the neighborhood, staying at a boarding facility, or even sitting by your screen door, can be at risk of a wide variety of nasty kitty diseases. Perhaps the two most common of these are viral in nature.

FeLV and FIV in cats are serious and incurable diseases, but there are certainly things our feline-loving clients can do to protect their precious pets.

Feline Leukemia Virus

Feline leukemia, often abbreviated as FeLV, is a serious disease in cats that is caused by a retrovirus. It is thought to be a leading cause of feline deaths and is something every cat lover should be aware of.

Cats are exposed to feline leukemia virus through the saliva (even sneezing!) or blood of infected cats. Kittens may also become infected during gestation if their mother is infected with the disease.

When a cat contracts FeLV, the body does its best to fight off the virus. In many cats, it does so successfully, but in unlucky victims, the virus heads to the bone marrow and other tissues. The infection may stay latent (hidden) for some time, but most infected cats will become ill at some point. Cats who are affected by FeLV will have either:

  • Myeloproliferative symptoms (changes in the bone marrow manifested as red and/or white blood cell abnormalities)
  • Cancer (lymphoma) of body tissues

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV, is another viral cat disease caused by a retrovirus. FIV shares many similarities with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).

Cats typically become infected with FIV after sustaining a serious bite wound from another cat. Casual contact is unlikely to result in infection, making it possible to safely incorporate an FIV positive kitty into a home with other cats.

Most cats with FIV live fairly normal lives, but their weakened immune systems makes them very susceptible to infection. Good preventative care is a must. Eventually, most infected cats succumb to a problem related to their abnormal immune function.

Preventing FeLV and FIV in Cats

Perhaps the worst part about FeLV and FIV in cats is that neither disease is treatable once a cat is infected. This makes prevention essential.

There are certainly things you can do to protect your feline friends from these devastating diseases.

  • Testing is power – Infection with FeLV and FIV can be detected through blood testing. It is important to test any new additions to your home and any at-risk adult cats periodically so that you can take appropriate steps should your pet be affected.
  • Vaccination is key – Luckily we can vaccinate against feline leukemia. Annual vaccination for any at-risk cat is an effective way to minimize the chance of infection. Kittens are most vulnerable to FeLV infection, and vaccination should be strongly considered in the first year of life. At this time, there is no recommended vaccination against FIV.
  • Limiting exposure is important – Taking steps to limit exposure to these diseases is important. Keeping your cat indoors, if possible, will decrease the risk. Be sure to quarantine any new pets that come into your home until you are sure they healthy. Don’t forget that spaying/neutering also decreases exposure risk.

FeLV and FIV in cats are not something cat owners want to deal with. Community Pet Hospital is equipped to keep your cat companion healthy through vaccination, spay/neuter, and excellent wellness care. We are also here for you, should your pet be affected, to help your pet live the best life imaginable.