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What is Feline Leukemia?


Feline leukemia is a cancerous disease caused by feline leukemia virus (FeLV). FeLV causes diseases other than leukemia including immunodeficiency and additional cancers. Cats may not start to show signs of disease for months or years after being infected with FeLV. Infection with FeLV is a major cause of illness and death in domestic cats.

How is FeLV spread?
Cats persistently infected with FeLV serve as sources of infection. Virus is shed in very high quantities in saliva and nasal secretions, but also in urine, feces, and milk from infected cats. Cat-to-cat transfer of virus may occur from a bite wound, during mutual grooming, and (though rarely) through the shared use of litter boxes and feeding dishes. Transmission can also take place from an infected mother cat to her kittens, either before they are born or while they are nursing. FeLV doesn't survive long outside a cat's body—probably less than a few hours under normal household conditions.

What cats are at greatest risk of infection?
Cats at greatest risk of infection are those that may be exposed to infected cats, either via prolonged close contact or through bite wounds. Such cats include:
What does FeLV do to a cat?
Feline leukemia virus adversely affects the cat's body in many ways. It is the most common cause of cancer in cats, it may cause various blood disorders, and it may lead to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat's ability to protect itself against other infections. The same bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi that may be found in the everyday environment—where they usually do not affect healthy animals—can cause severe illness in those with weakened immune systems. These secondary infections are responsible for many of the diseases associated with FeLV.

What are the signs of disease caused by FeLV?
During the early stages of infection, it is common for cats to exhibit no signs of disease at all. However, over time—weeks, months, or even years—the cat's health may progressively deteriorate or be characterized by recurrent illness interspersed with periods of relative health. Signs can include:
How should FeLV-infected cats be managed?

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