What Is the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)?

Did I say we were going to tackle a lighter subject this week? Well strap in, because I lied. Last week’s post got me wondering about the feline leukemia virus (FeLV), so I decided we could all explore the topic together this week. Think of it as a neat, little public service announcement. About cats dying. But don’t let that scare you, because the more we know about diseases like this, the better equipped we are to deal with them.

This is some serious stuff

As its name outright states, FeLV is a virus. According to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, two to three percent of cats in the United States are infected with it, and according to Dr. Glenn Olah, anywhere from three to 14 percent of cats worldwide. Why is it important to know about this retrovirus? Because it kills cats. Cornell gives kitties a median survival time of 2.5 years after diagnosis. But infection can be prevented.

FeLV is transferred from cat to cat through bite wounds, grooming, and even use of a shared litter box. That’s why the Torre Argentina sanctuary doesn’t take in infected felines. Since there is no cure, prevention is the best way to combat FeLV. That means keeping healthy cats away from those who have the virus.

I don’t know what to do with that information

You might be thinking, since it’s a virus, can’t they make a vaccine? The answer is that there is a vaccine, but it doesn’t protect all vaccinated cats, so it’s not a foolproof defense against the spread of FeLV. Speaking of which, how do you know if you’re infected? Well, kitty, you’ll have a host of symptoms ranging from weight loss to persistent fever, persistent diarrhea (I feel your pain), seizures, infections, inflammation, poor coat condition, etc. FeLV is also the leading cause of cancer in cats. Yikes.

My humans thought at some point that I could be infected, but what’s really afflicting me is allergies. I am quite lucky, and I wish that would be the case for all of you. As it stands, veterinarians treat infected cats for their symptoms and try to make them as comfortable as they can.

I’m so depressed right now

The Good News

In the past few decades, the percentage of cats infected with FeLV has gone down, thanks to prevention efforts and the vaccine. If you “own” a cat who comes into contact with other felines, you should talk to your vet about getting yours vaccinated. Also get any new cat you bring into the household vaccinated. As I said, it’s not foolproof, but it just might save your cat’s life.

Now, FeLV tests are not always accurate, and apparently the current best practices involve not systematically testing every cat that enters a shelter. I get the feeling money is one of the main reasons, but there is also the negative impact a false positive could have on healthy cats who would henceforth be treated as carriers.

The good news is that many shelters are equipped to deal with FeLV patients. And you, humans reading this blog, can do your part by adopting these kitties and keeping them indoors, away from non-infected cats. They are just as deserving of care and affection as their “healthy” counterparts, and with the right attention, can live many years after the diagnosis.

We’re all in this together

One day, we can hope the feline leukemia virus will be a thing of the past. Maybe we’ll have better vaccines or an outright cure. Maybe somebody will finally put money in feline medical research. But I digress. For the time being, all we can do is prevent the spread of this infection and take good care of our brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings who happen to contract the virus through no fault of their own.

Join me again next week for another interesting post. Whether it will be uplifting, educational, or just plain entertaining, I haven’t decided yet. You can’t pin me down, unlike the mama when she force-steams me. You know, for my allergies.

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