Feline Leukemia: A Guide For New Kitty Parents Who Have Adopted From A Shelter

Posted on: 23 June 2016

As a new kitty parent, you have a lot to worry about, from your cat's eating schedule to his vet appointments. One thing that's important not to skip is education about diseases that could affect your cat if you're not careful. One disease in particular, feline leukemia, is quite common in cats who have spent time in shelters or as feral cats. Read on to learn more about this disease and how to protect your furry friend.

What is feline leukemia?

Often abbreviated FeLV, the feline leukemia virus is a retrovirus that infects cats, destroying the immune system in a manner similar to how HIV affects humans. FeLV causes a wide array of symptoms, including loss of appetite, poor coat condition, seizures, fever, fatigue, weight loss, and anemia.

How is FeLV spread?

FeLV is a tricky virus in that it can affect cats in several different ways. Some cats become ill, but others fight off the infection before it causes any major symptoms and then become carriers of the disease, passing it on to others.

FeLV is spread through saliva and close contact between cats, which is why it is so prevalent in shelters where cats come into contact with many others. All it takes is one carrier of the infection to infect the whole shelter. A cat can contract FeLV after sharing a litter box or food bowl with an infected cat. It can also be passed during mutual grooming or biting.

How do you know if your new cat has FeLV?

When you have a cat from a shelter or one who you know lived as a feral cat for a while, it's a good idea to have it tested for FeLV at your vet's office. If the cat is negative for the virus, you can have him or her vaccinated for feline leukemia so you don't have to worry about it in the future. If your cat is positive for the virus, you then know it's important to keep him or her away from other cats to avoid spreading the infection. You also know to be on the lookout for symptoms of FeLV that may appear in the future.

What should you do if your cat develops symptoms of feline leukemia?

If you know your cat is positive and he one day starts showing signs of the illness, you need to contact your vet. Though some cats do die from the infection once symptoms start appearing, there are anti-viral drugs and supportive therapies that can help your cat recover and send the virus back into remission.

Since FeLV is so common in shelter cats, it's important to stay abreast of this illness so you're not taken by surprise if your cat starts showing symptoms one day.

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