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What Is Feline Leukemia?  

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is an infectious disease that causes leukemia and other cancers in cats. It is a feline retrovirus, meaning it is species-specific and cannot spread to humans or other animals, and it affects approximately 2-8% of outdoor cats in the U.S. Fortunately, that number keeps decreasing with increased awareness. 

FeLV impacts different cats in different ways, depending on the variation of the infection. The main symptom is immunosuppression, which means common viruses, bacteria and fungi are more harmful to an infected cat's health. For example, whereas a healthy cat could fight off a respiratory infection or "cat flu," an immunocompromised cat could become ill.

Symptoms of Feline Leukemia

Feline leukemia symptoms might not show up in your cat immediately, as there are typically no signs during the virus' early stages. Usually, symptoms only appear after several weeks, months or years. 

Symptoms can include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Behavior changes
  • A lackluster coat
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Pale or inflamed gums
  • Yellow mouth and eyes
  • Reproductive issues
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Irregular breathing patterns
  • Seizures

FeLV Methods of Infection

There is no known cure for feline leukemia, and prevention is the best protection against the disease. It's essential to understand how FeLV spreads cat-to-cat and the preventative measures you can take to protect your pet's health. 

FeLV spreads between friendly cats, when a healthy cat makes contact with an infected cat's bodily fluids, which include:

  • Nasal secretions
  • Saliva
  • Urine
  • Feces
  • Blood
  • Milk

The infection spreads cat-to-cat through: 

  • Nursing
  • Birth
  • Grooming
  • Feeding boxes
  • Litter boxes
  • Bites and scratches

Preventative Treatment Options for Feline Leukemia

The only definitive way to protect your cats from contracting FeLV is by preventing their exposure to FeLV-positive cats. If possible, keep your cats indoors to keep them from making friendly contact or fighting with infected cats, which could result in scratches or bites. If you allow your cat outdoors, place them in a secure enclosure and monitor their activity. 

If you've adopted a new cat or kitten, test them for FeLV with an antigen test kit before introducing them to any cats at home. Leukemia vaccines for cats can also help protect your kittens. However, vaccinations don't save all cats from infection, so it's important to remember that avoiding exposure is the most effective way to prevent FeLV.

That said, we highly recommend vaccinating your kittens and cats with a cat leukemia vaccine, especially if they are outdoors often. Introducing your cat to FeLV antibodies will equip its immune system to fight off the disease when exposed. Kittens generally receive two starter vaccines at eight and 12 weeks old, and they can receive yearly boosts with the Nobivac® FeLV vaccine to maintain and strengthen immunity.

Protect Pets with Revival Animal Health Vaccines

The Pet Care Pros at Revival Animal Health are vaccine experts. We're proud to help you protect your cat's health and well-being with our selection of FeLV vaccines from exclusive, trusted brands — TruFel Ultra and Nobivac®. Order yours today, or contact us for more information!