Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
What are Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus?
These viruses are retroviruses that affect cats and are common throughout the feline communtiy, especially in cats that spend most of their time outdoors. Infected cats may appear healthy, having no signs of disease. Another example of a retrovirus is the human HIV/AIDS virus. FeLV and FIV cannot be spread to people or other animals.
How are these viruses spread?
FeLV and FIV are both spread through close contact with infected cats. Cats are usually infected through fight/bite wounds from other cats. It is also possible for the disease to be transmitted through respiratory secretions, shared food and water bowls, and general close contact. Kittens can acquire the viruses through the placenta of an infected queen (mother cat). Cats that spend some or all of their time outside aare at a very high risk for becoming infected. Once the viruses are shed from the body, they die off quickly in the environment and are easily killed by standard disinfectants.
How do I know if my cat has one of these viruses?
Fortunately, there is a simple blood test for these viruses. At Ward Animal Hospital, we recommend testing of all new kittens and newly acquired adult cats for these viruses. If you already have a cat at home, and are considering bringing a new feline friend into the family, we strongly recommend you have the new cat tested before exposing him/her to the cat(s) already in the home. This will prevent spread of the virus from the new, potentially infected cat to your healthy cat(s). If you do not know the status of your current cat(s), the test can be performed at any time. We also recommend testing any cat showing signs of illness, especially if it has an outdoor lifestyle.
What happens if my cat is infected with one of these viruses?
If infected with FeLV or FIV, your cat may not show signs of illness for months to years. However, eventually the viruses will supress the immune system, making your cat susceptible to other infections that it may or may not be able to recover from with treatment. In addition, FeLV can cause more than one type of cancer. Cats that are found to be infected are often euthanized. However, optons other than euthanasia are available in certain situations. If your cat is infected, the doctor will discuss all of your options with you.
How can I protect my pet from these viruses?
Keeping your cat strictly indoors is the best way to prevent infection. If your cat never comes in contact with an infected cat, disease transmission cannot occur. However, if your pet must spend some or all of his/her time outdoors, yearly vaccination with an approved Feline Leukemia Vaccine is reccomended. There is also a vaccine available for FIV, but it is recommended in very rare cases. If you have questions about the FIV vaccine, please do not hesitate to ask the doctor.