Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A look at FeLV aka Feline Leukemia


When you spend any time around cats without homes, you run into the illnesses that affect them. Most of them are described in acronyms; FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus), Felv (Feline Leukemia), FIP (Feline infectious peritonitis), Feline coronavirus (FoCV), just to name a few. Today I want to take a look at FeLV commonly known as Feline Leukemia.

Jack - exposed and diagnosed with FeLV in 2003/ FeLV- in 2004

Feline Leukemia is unlike leukemia in many ways, so the fact that they have the same name is very misleading. Leukemia is cancer of the body's blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system.¹ Feline leukemia is a retrovirus, a virus that changes their genetic characteristics, that can cause tumors (mainly lymphoma), bone marrow suppression syndromes (mainly anemia), and lead to secondary infectious diseases caused by suppressive effects of the virus on bone marrow and the immune system.²

FeLV is less common now than it was twenty years ago. The experts believe it is due to better testing and proper management of cats who are found to be positive to prevent them from spreading the disease. There is also a vaccine for FeLV that is 80-90% effective so if your cat is free roaming and comes in contact with a FeLV+ cat their chances of contracting the disease is greatly reduced.

Our knowledge of FeLV continually evolves. When it was first discovered, many assumed it was an automatic death sentence. Unfortunately, many vets and shelters still subscribe to this philosophy thinking they are saving the cat from a painful death and preventing the spread of the disease. But with the information we now know, euthanizing a cat simply because it tests positive is happening far less.

We do know that the virus is communicable and that cats pass the feline leukemia virus to other kitties through saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces, prior to birth from an infected mom or after birth from her milk, through bite wounds, via grooming of each other, and by sharing food dishes and litter boxes.³ It was once thought that the virus was quite hardy and that it would survive in the environment for a long time but they found out that it can only survive a few hours at most.³ and some people believe that it only lasts a few minutes.  So if you come in contact with a FeLV+ cat, it would be highly unlikely that you could bring that virus home to your cats.

We also know that cats who do test positive can live long happy healthy lives. Not every case of infection is active. While we can't say for certain they will survive their normal lifespan, we can't guarantee that for any cat. My cat, Kit, passed away at age nine from cancer. My other cat Ollie passed away from vaccine-induced sarcoma at age eleven.

As something to consider, there has been some work with FeLV and Vitamin C. Dr. Wendell O Belfield had some pretty interesting success stories regarding FeLV and FIV and vitamin C. I know that the veterinarian community as a whole is not convinced that it helps, but read Dr. Belfield's book, you will find it fascinating. If you are willing to think outside the box, it might help you as well.

8 comments:

  1. We kitties are so far behind in research for the important diseases that impact us - FeLV, FIP, CRF, etc. - and it always makes me glad to see how far we've come in some areas. I hope lots more work and research continues to be done.

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  2. We agree with Summer....it is sad that research on cat disease seems fat behind everything. This is such good information...well done.

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  3. Maybe it's time to give it a new name! Very imformative, and you know that I like photos of Jack! ;-)

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  4. Very informative post ! Maybe another name would be less confusing for FelV. Purrs

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  5. I've noticed that cat diseases are misnomers for human diseases (feline AIDS ... feline leukemia). I understand the need for humans to understand the severity of these diseases - but trying to use diseases of humans to do that is just confusing and leads to misconceptions. I was really disturbed that the rescue told us Ellie was up to date on her vaccinations - and we received a notice from the vet a few months later that she was due for FeLV. I ran into her foster mom and she told me the rescue doesn't vaccinate for that. I understand money's an issue - but it upset me that they didn't tell us that in the beginning. Our vet told me she needs the vaccination - I was hoping to maybe avoid it.

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  6. I've noticed that cat diseases are misnomers for human diseases (feline AIDS ... feline leukemia). I understand the need for humans to understand the severity of these diseases - but trying to use diseases of humans to do that is just confusing and leads to misconceptions. I was really disturbed that the rescue told us Ellie was up to date on her vaccinations - and we received a notice from the vet a few months later that she was due for FeLV. I ran into her foster mom and she told me the rescue doesn't vaccinate for that. I understand money's an issue - but it upset me that they didn't tell us that in the beginning. Our vet told me she needs the vaccination - I was hoping to maybe avoid it.

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  7. We're glad to hear that FeLV is not as common as it once was. Thanks for this informative post about it.

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  8. Very interesting info. Hopefully they can continue to improve vaccine effectiveness and reduce the number of kitties who develop FeLV.

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