The feline leukemia virus, or FeLV, is a highly contagious disease that has no cure. While most expectant mother kitties who test negative for feline leukemia will give birth to healthy babies that also test negative, there is a chance that the little ones could actually test positive for it.
Feline leukemia is a type of retrovirus that suppresses your kitty's immune system, opening her up to many types of infections. While there is no cure for this disease, about 70 percent of kitties exposed to the virus are able to fight it off or resist any infections, according to WebMD. Basically, once infected, your kitty can either fight off the virus within 12 weeks of contracting it, live with the virus in a latent or active state or pass away from the infection. A kitty that fights off the virus may test negative for it later in life but there is the possibility she can still pass it onto her kittens.
Passing the Virus
FeLV is passed between our furry friends through contact with bodily fluids, including saliva, urine, feces and blood. The infection is also passed from a mother carrying the virus to her kittens in the uterus or after birth through her milk. Once they reach 8 weeks of age, the little kitties, if they test negative for the disease, can receive their first vaccination against it. Prior to this time, though, their developing immune systems are very vulnerable to the virus. Even if both they and their mother don't have the virus, exposure to an infected cat can possibly infect the little ones or their mom. Kittens, overall, are more vulnerable to the virus than older felines who may have built up a resistance to it or have been vaccinated against it.
There are several tests available to test for FeLV in kitties, the most common of which is the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This test detects the FeLV antigens in your kitty's blood. In some cases, this test can produce a false positive in your kitty's little furballs if they have recently been vaccinated against the virus. In this case, your vet will likely retest the little ones in about 28 days to confirm that the results were incorrect, according to Alley Cat Allies. If exposure to the virus is suspected by your vet, he'll perform follow-up tests including the indirect fluorescent antibody test or polymerase chain reaction test. These will detect either antibodies of the disease or its DNA in the systems of the little kittens.
If you've recently rescued a kitty who has given birth to kittens, those little babies need to be tested for FeLV, even if the mother has tested negative for it. While it is unlikely for a kitty that has been kept indoors and vaccinated regularly to pass the disease to her kittens, it's still a possibility. FeLV is a tricky virus that can sit latent in your kitty, even if she tests negative for it, allowing it to be passed to her kittens, according to the Safe Kitty Harbor/Second Chance Habitat. A mom recently exposed to the virus may also test negative for it, although she is actually infected. Because so many scenarios exist, it's best to test those little babies and retest them to confirm the results. Follow your vet's recommendations as to testing and treatment for FeLV-positive kitties.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Feline Leukemia Virus
- WebMD: Facts About Feline Leukemia Virus
- The Edmond Sun: Kittens of Suspect Mom Need Leukemia Testing
- Anne Arundel County, MD: Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FeLV/FIV) Testing
- Manhattan Cat Specialists: Update on Feline Leukemia Virus
- Safe Kitty Harbor/Second Chance Habitat: Feline Leukemia Virus
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.