You might guess that visible injuries are the scariest result when two neighborhood cats have a tussle. But it may be something unseen — like a virus that attacks the immune system — that packs the nastiest punch.
IDEXX Laboratories reports that Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) “kill more cats than any other disease.” Cats that are allowed to roam outdoors are at risk of developing one or both of these non-curable diseases. Even indoor cats can be exposed if they have physical contact with cats allowed to go outdoors.
Check this list to see if your cat is at risk for either FeLV or FIV:
- it is allowed outside the house
- it is a male cat
- it fights with other cats
- it has not been neutered
- it has not been vaccinated for FeLV
- it lives in a multi-cat household
- it is an indoor cat, but has contact with an outdoor cat
- it has a fever, weight loss, gingivitis, or other symptoms
- it has an unknown or untested mother
- it is from a cattery, pet store, or breeder
How do the viruses make cats sick? Both FeLV and FIV attack the cat’s immune system, so it is less able to fight off other diseases. Illnesses that would otherwise be controlled by a healthy immune system can instead be fatal to a cat infected with immune-suppressing disease.
How are FeLV and FIV spread?
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is often spread through contact with an infected cat’s saliva, such as through sharing food and water bowls, mutual grooming, or through a bite wound. It can also be spread through urine and feces deposited in the litter box.
Can people get Feline Leukemia or FIV? People are not known to be at risk for these diseases. So far, only cats have been affected.
What are symptoms of FeLV or FIV?
- swollen lymph nodes
- poor coat condition
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- mouth sores
Is there a test for FeLV or FIV? Yes, cats can be tested for both diseases. If the tests are negative, we recommend vaccinating against Leukemia and limiting your cat’s potential exposure to disease by keeping it indoors.
What if my cat tests “positive”? Since cats with FeLV and FIV have weakened immune systems, it is important to avoid opportunities for exposure to illness. Keep your cat indoors and on a healthy diet with plenty of fresh water available. Try to provide a stress-free environment. Schedule yearly check-ups with the veterinarian and practice early intervention if you see signs of illness. Keeping your cat indoors will also limit its ability to spread the disease. If you have other cats in the household, have them tested and vaccinated accordingly.
The good news about Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is that they are preventable diseases. You can control your cat’s exposure level by keeping it indoors and vaccinated. Remember, though, each time a new cat is introduced to the household, it has the potential of bringing an illness with it. Ask your veterinarian about testing and prevention.
Some information from this article was borrowed from IDEXX Laboratories’ publications.