The feline leukemia virus has no cure and can suppress your furbaby's immune system, opening him up to infection. This disease can be spread from mother to kittens either in the womb or while nursing, so it's important to have your little one tested before introducing him to other cats.
Feline Leukemia Virus
The feline leukemia virus, also referred to as FeLV, is caused by a retrovirus that suppresses your kitty's immune system. This condition is especially serious in kittens because of their already weak immune system that is still developing. The virus is easily spread among kitties and can be contained in a kitty's saliva and blood. This means that a kitty can become infected by using shared food or water bowls and litter boxes. The disease can also be passed through mutual grooming and during serious fights that result in a bite. Moms who have the disease can spread it to their litter through the placenta prior to birth. If born healthy, kittens can also become infected when they nurse from her or when she grooms them.
While little kittens can become infected through contact with a kitty other than their mother, testing her usually can give you an idea of whether her litter is also infected with the disease. This is especially true if they have had no contact with other felines. The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay blood test shows whether your furry friends have the FeLV proteins in their blood, according to WebMD. This test, which is performed by your veterinarian, can also be used on the kittens once they reach around 6 to 8 weeks of age and are big enough to obtain a sample from, according to Cat Channel. If a kitty tests positive for the illness, the indirect immunofluorescent antibody assay blood test can tell the vet how far long in the illness the little one is or check to see if the initial result was correct.
What to Do
When adopting a new little kitten or caring for an entire litter, have each little guy tested for FeLV, especially if you have other kitties in the home who can catch the disease. If he tests negative for the disease, have your little kitty vaccinated against it starting around 8 weeks old and then with a booster around 12 weeks old, recommends the American Association of Feline Practitioners. This vaccine is recommended for all kittens under 4 months of age because they have developing immune systems, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Those kept indoors after this age and not exposed to outdoor cats usually don't require annual vaccination with it after their initial shots.
A positive result isn't a death sentence for a kitten and with supportive care, your little one could survive for years with regular vet visits, a low-stress indoor environment and a healthy diet. Have kittens who test negative for FeLV retested 60 days later in case of exposure to the disease just before the initial test, recommends the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Never allow FeLV positive cats to breed because of the risk of the disease spreading to the offspring. Keep any new kitten litters away from other felines and indoors for their safety and protection from illnesses like FeLV, which has no cure. Vaccinating an infected kitty doesn't hurt him, but it won't help him avoid the potentially fatal effects of the disease either. Keep any kittens who test positive for FeLV away from other cats who test negative because the disease can spread so easily.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Feline Leukemia Virus
- WebMD: Facts About Feline Leukemia Virus
- VetInfo: Feline Leukemia in Kittens
- 2ndchance.info: Feline Leukemia In Your Cat -- FeLV +
- American Association of Feline Practitioners: 2006 Feline Vaccination Guidelines
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: General Cat Care
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Feline Vaccines: Benefits and Risks
- Cat Channel: When Can I Get My Kitten Tested for FIV, FeLV?
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: FeLV and FIV Testing in the Shelter
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.