Feline Leukemia Virus

The feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is in a group of viruses called retroviruses. A retrovirus is characterized by its mechanism of reproduction within its host's body. Retroviruses reproduce by injecting their genetic material into the nucleus of a cat's cell. This strip of DNA coding injected by the virus is read by the cell, causing the cell to use its resources to build more viruses, which are stored inside the cell. The cell continues to make more viruses until it is so full that the cell membrane ruptures, releasing the new viruses into the body to infect more cells. Some other species of retroviruses are the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV or feline AIDS) or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

How Does Feline Leukemia Virus Spread?

The feline leukemia virus can exit the body of its host through most bodily secretions, including saliva, mucous, urine, feces and milk. The most common cases of cat-to-cat transfer of FeLV originate with a bite wound or a grooming session. It is rarely reported to spread between cats when they share a litter box, water bowl or food container.

Since it can spread through milk, infected cats can spread the disease to their nursing kittens. Unlike many species of virus, the feline leukemia virus does not survive long outside of a host. The average virus can only survive a few hours in a normal household environment. What Does Feline Leukemia Virus Do to a Cat?

Because the feline leukemia virus reproduces by changing the DNA in a cat's cells, it has a high probability of causing other genetic problems, such as uncontrollable growth, otherwise known as cancer. This virus is the most common cause of cancer in domesticated cats, which is where the name feline leukemia virus is derived.

It can also compromise the cat's immune system, allowing other viruses or bacteria to do more damage than they would if they were in a cat with a healthy immune system. Because the virus compromises a cat's immune system in this way, other species of pathogens are often responsible for many of the symptoms associated with the disease. Symptoms of FeLV

Since most of the more serious symptoms of a feline leukemia virus infection are the result of secondary infections, early stages rarely show any symptoms at all. It can be identified through a slow, progressive deterioration of the cat's health. Some signs of this general degradation of a cat's health are a loss of appetite, enlarged lymph nodes, persistent fever, or any number of other symptoms, depending on which secondary infections the initial infection allows to occur.

The feline leukemia virus can cause very serious health conditions in domesticated cats. Because this condition can be transmitted from cat to cat, keep your infected cats away from your healthy ones. Needless to say, an infected cat's chances of survival are largely dependant on when treatment is applied, so if you think your cat has the virus, contact your vet immediately.