Leukosis in Cats

At first glance, many people cannot imagine anything under leukosis. Under the alternative term leukemia, however, is more likely. Leukosis also occurs in other animal species, such as cattle, and both humans and dogs can develop leukemia. We explain more about cat leukosis here.

What is Cat Leukosis?

Cat leukosis is contagious and very dangerous cat disease. It is triggered by infection with the feline leukemia virus (FeLV for short). Unfortunately, once the disease has broken out, it cannot be treated and is fatal. The virus is particularly dangerous for unvaccinated animals that have contact with conspecifics. It is therefore recommended that cats be vaccinated against feline leukosis.

Contagion Through Bite Wounds and Mating

Feline leukemia virus can be transmitted from cat to cat. Most of the time, the virus is transmitted through direct contact. Most of all, the virus is spread through bites and mating. A mother can also pass the virus on to her kittens. The risk of infection is particularly high in young cats up to 16 weeks old, and susceptibility to FeLV decreases with age.

First and foremost, outdoor animals should be tested, vaccinated, and also neutered. Uncastrated males like to fight rivals outside. This means that infected animals transmit the virus to the opponent through the bites.

Indirect infection is also possible: if several cats live in one household, a healthy cat can become infected if, for example, it shares a water bowl with an infected fur nose. Contagion is also possible through mutual grooming.

If cats become infected with FeLV, it does not mean that the disease will break out immediately. While some cats show symptoms after the first few days, it can take weeks, months, or even years for other cats.

The Symptoms of Feline Leukemia

The feline leukemia virus attacks the cat’s immune system. So that means that the immune system is weakened. However, like many other cat diseases, feline leukosis is not associated with clear symptoms. The cat can suffer from anorexia, indigestion, fever, and difficulty breathing. She appears tired and listless and is also prone to other diseases.

The sick animal can also suffer from jaundice. Due to anemia, the cats’ mucous membranes are pale. You suddenly lose a lot of weight and often suffer from inflammation of the gums. Even drawn wounds do not heal well, and tumors can also form.

To check the mucous membranes, simply press the gums with your finger, for example, if your cat allows it. This should be clearly rosy again in a matter of seconds. Incidentally, pale mucous membranes can also be a sign of circulatory problems in animals.

A weak immune system can also indicate other illnesses such as FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis), FIV (Feline Immune Efficiency Virus or “Cat Enaids”), or FIA (Feline Infectious Anemia). The virus does not actually break out in every infected cat. Some animals have a very strong immune system that can defeat the pathogen on its own.

Consequences of Cat Leukosis

As mentioned earlier, the virus weakens cats’ immune systems. As a rule, there are changes in the organ system, where the virus reproduces well. As a result, normal blood formation in the bone marrow ceases and tumors form. In young cats, the tumors are particularly often malignant. Neurological problems and fertility disorders can also occur. Due to the weakened immune system, secondary infections such as pneumonia or cat flu are particularly dangerous for sick animals.

Diagnosis by the Veterinarian

To find out whether your cat has the feline leukemia virus, you definitely have to go to the vet. In order to detect the virus, the vet has to draw blood as this is the only way to identify it. As long as the virus can be detected in the blood, the cat is contagious, even if the disease itself has not broken out. So if you have several cats, you should have all fur noses tested if you suspect them.

Treat Feline Leukosis?

Unfortunately, there is no drug for feline leukemia. If the cat’s immune system has not been able to defeat the pathogen itself and the first symptoms appear, it is too late. However, at least the symptoms can be alleviated and the immune system strengthened. A healthy diet, little stress, and a species-appropriate attitude and occupation are also good for sick cats. It makes sense to keep the infected animals in the apartment so that on the one hand they do not infect their conspecifics and on the other hand no further infections due to the weak immune system.

You have to be prepared for the fact that your darling will get weaker and weaker over time. As difficult as the step is, if your cat is already doing very badly and the symptoms are very advanced, you should think about sparing your darling further suffering. In this case, get precise advice from your vet.

Vaccination Against Feline Leukosis

It is possible to have cats vaccinated against feline leukosis. This is recommended by many veterinarians and is a standard vaccination because it is considered reliable. As already mentioned, the vaccination makes sense if your cat is outdoors.

The first vaccination is usually given at nine weeks of age, followed by another three weeks later. From then on, the vaccination should be refreshed annually. If you have taken in an older cat, you should have it tested before vaccination. In this way, you make sure that she does not already carry the virus. Warning: If the cat carries the virus, vaccination can lead to the onset of the disease!

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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