Feline leukemia virus
Today we will talk about a disease that can have irreversible consequences for the cat. Especially, this article will be useful to those owners who let their cat out into the street or took a street cat home.
It is not for nothing that veterinarians promote vaccination of pets, as there is a risk of feline leukemia virus infection.
FeLV is what kind of illness?
This chronic viral infection is a severe disease characterized by immunodeficiency, overgrowth of pathogenic hematopoietic tissue, anemia, and leukemia.
The main causative agent of this disease is the RNA-containing virus type C, which belongs to the group of retroviruses (genus oncoviruses).
According to some data, this type of deadly virus appeared hundreds of thousands of years ago and cats contracted it from mice, which had their own, modified leukemia virus.
According to official sources, the feline leukemia virus was identified in the United States in 1964. The process of research on this virus and its life activity continues to this day.
What is “feline leukemia” and what causes feline leukemia?
We should not take this diagnosis literally, because leukemia develops quite rarely as a result of this infection.
FeLV most often affects young animals (up to the age of 6 years, including kittens); it can take two forms depending on the immune response of the cat’s body:
- Exogenous, i.e. poisonous, which leads to the death of the organism within a certain period of time. Since the immune system is affected, the animal begins to excrete the dangerous virus with saliva. We can observe how the animal has accompanying diseases: stomatitis, sudden weight loss, and lack of appetite, diarrhea. With this aggressive form of the disease, veterinarians usually give a comforting prognosis of 2-3 years with relieving therapy.
- The endogenous form (or latent form) of the disease does not pose a serious threat to the life of the pet. It may last from 1 to 6 years and not manifest itself aggressively. The virus enters the bone marrow and “freezes” waiting for favorable factors when the animal’s body fails or accompanying maladies appear.
Stress, pregnancy of the cat, and any trauma may set off an irreversible process.
The severity and recovery process of the cat depends on how far the pathogenic viruses go. In most cases, the owners manage to avoid the fatal outcome of the pet, because it does not reach the bone marrow.
The distinguishing feature of FeLV is that it is able to reproduce in the environment/tissues of the body where the active cell division process takes place (in the bone marrow, as we mentioned above). It is the bone marrow that is a favorable environment for the reproduction of the virus. When it reaches the coveted point, it infects new cells, actively multiplies, and enters the bloodstream from where it is transported to other places with dividing cells. If the virus does make its way to the bone marrow, it does so by 4-6 weeks after infection.
Usually, the virus reaches the epithelium of the nasopharynx, salivary glands, and of course, it attacks the upper respiratory tract together with the lymph nodes (where it kills the T- and B-lymphocytes). In this way, the virus provides itself a breeding ground for successful reproduction and transmission to another victim.
Also, interesting is the fact that the deadly virus is very susceptible to high temperatures (it dies when heated to 100 ℃). In addition, it dies quickly outside the body.
How do cats get leukemia?
In short, saliva, feces, urine, sputum, and blood are the main channels of transmission.
As we have said, the feline leukemia virus affects the salivary glands and actively multiplies in the nasopharynx and respiratory organs, but it is also found in the blood in high concentrations. Among the most common routes of infection are:
- Saliva, when an infected pet with feline leukemia symptoms licks a healthy cat;
- Fights between individuals (bites, scratches from a sick animal can transmit the infection through entry into the bloodstream of a rival);
- Close contact with large numbers of unvaccinated animals in catteries and shelters;
- The virus is easily transmitted through the milk of an infected mother to her kittens;
- Identical utensils from which healthy and infected pets eat;
- Blood transfusions (every cat should therefore be tested for signs of leukemia in cats prior to a blood transfusion);
- Flea bites are also one of the most common routes of infection.
How contagious is feline leukemia and can humans get feline leukemia?
Feline leukemia virus is a very serious and easily transmitted disease. The disease has a worldwide distribution and occurs in nearly 40% of cats. Since it is passed on through every possible excretion, the risk of catching the disease is very high.
Especially cats cannot feel or understand the danger that is near them. They may lick each other, sniff feces, and lick the blood from their coat or other surfaces; they may eat food that another furry companion has not finished.
There is no evidence that the feline leukemia virus is dangerous to humans. But people with low immunity, pregnant women, and young children should refrain from contact with infected animals.
Feline leukemia symptoms and prognosis
Because the virus affects various organ systems, the range of symptoms is quite wide:
- Suppressed immune system functions;
- Lethargy and decreased activity;
- Thinness, reduced appetite, and weight loss;
- Impaired reproductive function;
- The dullness of coat and pale color of mucous membranes;
- High body temperature;
- Development of neoplasms due to the active growth process of mutant cells.
Is feline leukemia treatable and the most important question – how long can a cat live with leukemia?
Unfortunately, if your pet is infected with this infection, the doctors’ prognosis is not very comforting. The fact is that there is no treatment for feline leukemia that will get rid of the symptoms forever.
All feline leukemia virus treatment is reduced to symptomatic therapy, which aims to eliminate the symptoms and consequences of the virus.
Usually, blood transfusions are the most effective way to get rid of the feline leukemia virus. It is done several times at intervals of 10 to 14 days. It all depends on how much of the pet’s bone marrow is able to produce new red blood cells.
Chemotherapy sessions are given to fight malignant growths.