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Feline Leukemia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

How to Prevent and Treat Feline Leukemia

By Robyn Johnson. November 21, 2012 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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Feline Leukemia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Feline leukemia, unlike leukemia in humans, is not a form of cancer, but rather, a viral infection. Learn everything you need to know to keep your cat safe.

Despite it’s name, feline leukemia is a viral infection, not a form of cancer. However, it may attack the bone marrow and allow cancers to take hold, which is what initially led to the misnomer.

Sadly, feline leukemia, or FeLV, is an incurable disease, which attacks thousands of domesticated and wild cats every year. While there are treatments to ease and extend the life of the cat, cat leukemia remains a destructive blood virus that can be spread in several ways. Kittens born to infected mothers are extremely likely to contract the disease. Due to the highly contagious nature of feline leukemia, it is extremely important to separate any exposed cats and get them tested for signs of the infection.

Feline Leukemia Causes

Feline leukemia virus is categorized as a retrovirus, because within infected cells, it produces the enzyme reverse transcriptase. This synthesizes the virus’ own genetic material into the infected cells, which means it inserts feline leukemia DNA in to the cell itself. These infected cells quickly infect other blood cells, causing the disease to take hold.

Feline leukemia is highly contagious and is often not identified until other cats have become infected through contact. It can be spread through saliva, urine, nasal secretions, and feces. Direct contact from one cat to another, such as biting and breast milk transfer is also a common method of transmission. It’s less common, but if cats share litter boxes or feeding dishes, the virus may spread that way as well.

Feline Leukemia Symptoms

Feline Leukemia causes a slow deterioration of the animal, which may not even be noticeable until months or years after initial infection. Be sure to have your cat tested if you notice slow consistent weight loss, pale or inflamed gums, deterioration of fur, chronic diarrhea, seizures, enlarged lymph nodes, anorexia, fever, eye problems, or reproductive problems.

How to Treat Feline Leukemia

There is a difference of opinion amongst veterinarians today, about the best and most effective approach to treating feline leukemia. Some believe there is not enough supporting evidence that medications can extend the life of the cat, while others actively prescribe medications. Available treatments include ImmunoRegulin, Acemannan, Interferon Alpha, Lymphocyte T-Cell Immune Modulator, and Staph Protein A. It is important to find a veterinarian who will discuss in detail the options for treatment.

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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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