In general, cats often get the short end of the stick or at least the short end of discussion. Cats take the back seat to dogs in almost every media exposure. They might get to equally share the limelight with dogs on America’s Funniest Videos, but there are definitely 10 times more movies starring dogs than cats.
Therefore, this week’s article is dedicated to all the cat lovers.
Unfortunately, feline diseases are very complicated and often devastating. There are some extremely prevalent and deadly viruses to which cats are susceptible.
Not long ago, in the 1980s, two viruses were detrimental to the feline population. Prior to a vaccine being available against these viruses, cats hardly had a chance. Feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus are the culprits responsible for many deaths in cats. Since both of these devastating viruses are extremely complicated, I will concentrate this week’s article on feline leukemia virus.
Certainly, feline immunodeficiency virus also requires an entire article to properly discuss its devastating effects.
Feline leukemia virus is found worldwide and can actually cause cancer in some cats. It is the most prevalent, familiar and well known of the common devastating cat viruses. The virus infects cats in a wide range of ways causing disease in any organ of their body. The virus can attack their immune systems causing them to be less able to defend themselves against countless infections. Therefore, practically any clinical signs or symptoms could be ultimately caused by the leukemia virus.
The virus commonly causes cancer known as lymphoma or lymphosarcoma which may be present at single or multiple sites. Additionally, this virus may cause severe and life threatening anemia, which is a very low blood count. Other diseases commonly caused by the leukemia virus include abortion, gastroenteritis, neurological conditions and eye disorders.
Obviously, this cat virus is extremely complicated and continues to be a challenge for veterinarians to prevent and treat. Feline leukemia virus is transmitted primarily through direct contact between cats.
Bodily fluids, such as saliva, urine and feces, are the source of shedding of the virus. Fortunately, the virus does not live very long outside of the body, which means it is not considered to be highly contagious. Close contact for prolonged periods of time such as mating, grooming each other, and sharing litter box and food bowls are more likely to transmit the disease. Bite wounds from other cats readily transmits the virus. Infected pregnant female cats can also transmit the virus to their unborn kittens.
Some cats that get exposed to the virus may be able to fight it off with their immune system and never become sick. However, only approximately 30 percent of cats can mount a sufficient immune response to fight off the virus. That means that 70 percent of cats exposed to the virus will become infected permanently.
The difficult part to understand is that the virus can remain somewhat “dormant” in their body for months or even years. Therefore, it could take years from the time the cat gets infected to show any symptoms of illness from the virus. Additionally, it is not a death sentence for every cat that tests positive for the virus.
However, it is recommended that a leukemia positive cat be kept strictly indoors without any other cats in the house.
Diagnosis of feline leukemia virus may be difficult due to the fact that it causes a wide range of symptoms and can co-exist with other diseases while the virus just complicates or promotes the situation.
Fortunately, we have a simple and quick blood test that can be performed in the clinic to diagnose feline leukemia. The test is very sensitive but is not always “cut and dry” with regards to the cat’s condition or prognosis.
There can be some cats that would test positive although they only have a transient infection while their immune system fights off the virus. There are certain situations when it may be necessary to re-test the cat in 60 days or confirm the diagnosis by sending a blood sample to a laboratory for additional, more sensitive tests. Treatment for feline leukemia is aimed mostly at treating the secondary infections and supportive care. Some immune stimulating medications have shown promise in helping the cat fight off infections; however, there are no medications to cure the cat leukemia virus.
Prevention of feline leukemia is by far the best method of dealing with the devastating virus. There is a very effective and readily available vaccine to protect your cat. All cats that go outside, even for short periods of time, should be vaccinated against feline leukemia. It is also recommended to have your kitten tested prior to starting a series of vaccinations. Annual booster vaccinations are necessary to maintain protection.
Contact your veterinarian as soon as possible if your cat is sick in any way or about vaccinating your cat for feline leukemia to ensure your furry feline lives a long, healthy, and happy life.