Feline Leukemia Vaccine

The feline leukemia vaccine will protect your cat's immune system. Feline leukemia is a virus that suppresses the immune system preventing your cat from fighting off many other ailments, including anemia and certain cancers.

Cats become infected with feline leukemia through contact with the blood or saliva of an infected cat, usually through fighting with another cat. Outdoor cats tend to be the highest risk for developing this disease, but those who own cats and bring another cat home are also susceptible. Another possible route of infection occurs when a mother cat transfers the virus to her kittens through her milk or while the kittens are in utero.

Testing for FeLV Prior to the Feline Leukemia Vaccine

Your veterinarian will perform an FeLV test before vaccinating your cat. This involves a blood test that checks for antibodies to feline leukemia. If the test shows antibodies to feline leukemia, it is important to keep the cat separated from other cats. If there are no antibodies present, it is safe to give the feline leukemia vaccine. Vaccinating a cat with FeLV is pointless.

How the Feline Leukemia Vaccine Is Administered

FeLV vaccinations are given in two doses three weeks apart. It's best to get your kitten vaccinated between eight and ten weeks and then again between eleven and thirteen weeks. After that, yearly boosters are recommended.

The vaccine is not 100 percent effective, but studies find that it is about 90 to 95 percent effective in preventing feline leukemia after the booster. You can reduce the risk even more by keeping your cat indoors.

There are two forms of vaccine. One is injected via a small needle, and the other is given without a needle using a high powered machine that shoots bursts of air. The transdermal feline leukemia vaccine is administered through the skin using a blast of air. Not every veterinary office has the VETJET air-pressure system in their office. Therefore, this option may not be available in all areas.

Safety of the Feline Leukemia Vaccine

There are few side effects with the FeLV vaccine. There may be pain and swelling after the vaccination.

FeLV vaccinations are given in the rear leg of a cat, usually the left. The reason for this is the increased risk of fibrosarcoma tumors caused by the vaccine. Some cats develop tumors at the injection site. This isn't extremely common, but the risk is there. The risk for developing FeLV is higher, so the vaccination is still recommended for any cat that goes outside, comes into contact with other cats or spends time in a kennel.

By giving the vaccine in a specific area, it's easier to monitor for the tumors. Chemotherapy and radiation are effective treatments, but fibrosarcoma tumors spread quickly, so it's often recommended to remove the tumor. The problem with fibrosarcoma is that the tumor spreads out making it hard to get it all. By limiting the vaccination site to the back leg, amputation is a better idea. Most cats manage quite well without their left hind leg.