Leukemia in cats is much different than the types of leukemia that are seen in people. In cats, leukemia is caused by a virus known as the feline leukemia virus, or FeLV.
How Can a Cat Owner Know If a Cat Has Feline Leukemia?
Many cats that are infected with the feline leukemia virus look and act perfectly normal. The only way to tell if a cat is infected is with a blood test. Fortunately, there is a simple test that can be performed in a matter of minutes in your veterinarian’s office that will tell you whether your cat is infected. This test is known as an ELISA test.
All cats should be tested for the feline leukemia virus. Ideally, this should be done before allowing the cat to interact with other cats in the household. The feline leukemia virus is contagious to other cats, and a cat which tests positive can potentially pass the virus along to other cats. Fortunately, the virus is not contagious to people, and you cannot get leukemia from your cat.
Your cat should also be tested for the feline leukemia virus if he has been exposed to another cat who may have feline leukemia. Ideally, testing should occur 60 days after the exposure. Also, if your cat is sick, regardless of his previous feline leukemia status, your veterinarian may want to test him.
How Does a Cat Get Infected with the Feline Leukemia Virus?
Feline leukemia is a contagious disease, and the virus is passed through body secretions. In most cases, close contact with an infected cat is necessary for transmission of the virus. Touching noses with another cat is not likely to transmit the disease. However, grooming one another, sharing a litter box, food bowl or water dish, or fighting with each other can pass the virus from one cat to another.
What Does It Mean If My Cat Tests Positive for FeLV?
If your cat is positive on the ELISA test, the test should be confirmed using another test called an IFA test. This test will confirm that the ELISA test is correct.
Many cats with positive feline leukemia tests live long healthy lives. However, if your cat is positive, it does mean he is infected with the disease. You should take precautions to keep him healthy.
- Keep your cat indoors.
- Do not allow your cat to eat raw meat.
- Do not allow your cat to hunt.
- Keep your cat up-to-date on vaccines.
- Keep your cat free of fleas and intestinal parasites.
- Have your cat examined by your veterinarian at least twice a year.
- Take your cat to the veterinarian at the first sign of illness.
What Are the Symptoms of Feline Leukemia in Cats?
Essentially, the feline leukemia virus damages the immune system and leaves your cat susceptible to other types of infections. As a result, symptoms of any type can be seen with feline leukemia.
- If your cat has a positive feline leukemia virus test and is acting sick, you should see your veterinarian.
- If your cat is acting sick and you do not know his feline leukemia virus status, your cat should be tested to rule out the disease.
A healthy cat with a positive feline leukemia virus can live for a long period of time without incident. However, once your cat begins to develop symptoms due to feline leukemia, the prognosis is poor. Feline leukemia is almost always fatal once a cat becomes sick.
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