Feline Leukaemia Virus in cats (FeLV)

Feline Leukaemia Virus is a viral infection of cats, the disease is extremely common and is distributed world wide. FeLV belongs to the Retrovirus family, which is the same virus family as Feline aids (FIV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). People cannot be infected by FeLV even though it belongs to the same family as the HIV virus. These viruses are very species specific and cross infection is not possible.

The virus occurs in high quantities in saliva and is spread via mutual grooming, shared litter boxes and food bowls. It can also be spread via bite wounds and a queen may transmit it to her kittens. It is therefore common in multi-cat households and in areas with large feral cat populations.

Cats infected with the virus may live for years without showing signs of infection. The virus affects white blood cells (leukaemia) which leads to immune deficiency in these animals. As a result of their weakened immune systems, these cats are prone to secondary viral, bacterial or fungal infections. They typically also recover slowly from disease/wounds. Eventually the disease becomes apparent in an animal and they may show any of the following clinical symptoms:

  • poor appetite
  • slow progressive weight loss
  • poor coat condition
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • persistent fever
  • pale gums
  • infections of skin, bladder and respiratory tract 
  • chronic diarrhoea
  • difficult breathing

Management of the disease requires that we address multiple aspects. Neutering and sterilisation of male and female cats reduces roaming and, therefore, the chance of your pets coming into contact with animals that have the disease. There is also a vaccination available against FeLV. 

Our practice strongly recommends testing and vaccination of all cats. The vaccination regimen that we adhere to is as follows:

  • a primary vaccination followed by a booster vaccination 4-6 weeks after the primary vaccination, thereafter vaccination is yearly with other routine vaccinations.

If you are concerned about your pet or if you would like more information, please either contact us at the practice or come and see us.