Feline Leukemia in Kittens

Feline leukemia (FeLV) is a disease caused by a retrovirus, and will result in the suppression of the immune system. When the virus affects kittens, the disease will be severe, as they have a weak immune system. For this reason, the prognosis in kittens with FeLV is poor. The majority of infected kittens may die from cancer or a secondary infection. However, the disease may be prevented though the administration of the leukemia vaccine.

FeLV Transmission

Feline leukemia virus is transmitted from other infected cats through blood and saliva. The saliva can be present on food bowls or other objects cats come in contact with. The virus can survive for up to 2 days in a wet environment. Leukemia virus can be transmitted to kittens from an infected mother, either through the placenta or while grooming.

Clinical Signs of Leukemia in Kittens

Kittens with FeLV will be immuno-compromised, so they will be more prone to infections and diseases. The virus is comparable with the effects of FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), which also weakens the immune system.

In the beginning, the kitten will display no symptoms. As the disease advances, the kitten may display fever and lethargy, and will refuse to eat. The kitten will contract different diseases that will take longer than usual to treat, due to the weak immune system. The diseases may be recurrent.

The most common diseases that occur in kittens with FeLV are respiratory diseases, distemper, feline infectious peritonitis, stomatitis, gum problems and even cancer. A kitten with advanced leukemia will also lose weight and have anemia.

Diagnosing FeLV in Kittens

The virus can be identified though a blood test. An ELISA test may also be performed. The test will reveal the presence of the feline leukemia antigens if the kitten is infected.

Leukemia Treatment

Unfortunately, feline leukemia has no cure and will be fatal in the majority of cases, especially if the patients are kittens.

All the secondary infections and diseases must be controlled, but eventually, the immune system of the kitten will not be able to respond.

Kittens typically die of secondary respiratory infections that cause respiratory failure. Cancer can also attack the kitten and metastize to the rest of the body, causing lung cancer and respiratory failure.

Euthanasia must also be considered as a solution, as a kitten is very weak and the recurring infections may cause a lot of pain and discomfort.

Prevention of FeLV

There is a FeLV vaccine that can prevent the occurrence of the virus in kittens.

The vaccine must be administered when the kitten is 8 to 10 weeks old. The kitten must be tested prior to vaccination to ensure that he is not already infected.

If the mother is infected, the kitten must be separated from her to prevent the transmission of the virus. However, the mother may have already infected the kitten through the placenta.

Periodical FeLV boosters must be administered.