Contributing to early death and disease in cats, the feline leukemia virus can be devastating. Testing your kitten and getting him vaccinated could prevent the heartbreak of losing a beloved pet to this highly contagious disease.
What is Feline Leukemia?
The feline leukemia virus, or FeLV, is a retrovirus that depresses your kitty's immune system. Even though it is called the feline leukemia virus, a cat that tests positive for FeLV doesn't necessarily have the disease feline leukemia. Although being FeLV positive does put your cat at increased risk of developing leukemia. FeLV affects about 3 percent of cats and is more common with outdoor cats, according to The Cat Health Guide website. When your kitten's immune system is depressed, he won't be able to fight off other diseases he may come in contact with, such as liver disease and chronic upper respiratory infections. FeLV is the No. 1 cause of feline cancer, including leukemia and lymphosarcoma. FeLV is spread to other cats as simply as sharing a litter box or grooming each other. There is no known cure for FeLV.
Testing for Feline Leukemia
There is no age restriction on testing your kitten for FeLV, so get her tested as early as possible. There are two tests for FeLV. The initial test is the ELISA test, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The ELISA test is available at most veterinary clinics and tests for antigens present in a kitten's blood. If your kitten has a positive reading on an ELISA test, it can be confirmed with an IFA test, or immunoflourescent assay, performed at a commercial laboratory.
The primary form of prevention is to get your kitten vaccinated from FeLV. Keeping your kitty indoors will limit his possible exposure to the disease. Before you introduce a new kitten to your other cats, keep him isolated until you can have him tested. FeLV is easy to kill in the outside environment. Household cleaners, including bleach, are capable of killing the virus.
If your kitten receives a positive test, it isn't necessarily a death sentence. He can still live for years even if he is infected. However, you shouldn't keep him with other kitties or allow him to go outside because he could spread the disease. Since he will be susceptible to many other diseases, your primary concern is to limit his exposure. If you receive a positive test result, speak with your vet about management options so you can provide your kitten with the best quality of life.