Vaccines to Control Feline Leukemia Virus in Cats

Feline leukemia virus is a fatal viral infection affecting the cat's immune system. This virus can cause a number of other diseases, including some cancers and feline leukemia (Lymphosarcoma), which is a cancer of the lymph nodes. Feline leukemia kills more cats every year than any other cause except accidents. There are indications that upwards of 21 percent of all sick cats that are brought to a vet have feline leukemia. Even more shocking is the fact that more than 30 percent of all malignant tumors discovered in cats are the result of the feline leukemia virus. Feline leukemia is incurable, but there are a number of vaccines that have proven to be very effective in preventing it.

How Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) Is Transmitted

This virus is not an airborne virus like most others. It can only be caught by the direct transference of bodily fluids or feces of infected cats. Saliva, tears, blood and urine are all fluids that carry the virus. Close and sustained contact is required for transmission from animal to animal. This means that an infected cat can transmit it by biting another cat, grooming another cat or having another share a food or water bowl. External blood feeding parasites such as mosquitoes, fleas and ticks can also spread it after biting an infected cat. This virus and disease are not gender specific.

3 Types of Feline Leukemia and Symptomology

Feline leukemia comes in three different types: Chest, abdominal and multicentric.

  • Chest leukemia is characterized by an enlarged windpipe and esophagus, difficulty in breathing, coughing and fluid accumulation (edema) in the chest (thorax).
  • Abdominal leukemia is characterized by malignant cells in the lymph nodes, intestines, liver, kidney or spleen. The cat may also have a diminished appetite. Symptoms of abdominal leukemia are depression, loss of weight and appetite, dehydration, anemia, jaundice and diarrhea or constipation. 
  • Multicentric leukemia is characterized by severely enlarged lymph nodes under the skin and the formation of tumors in many of the organs. Symptoms are the same as the other types of leukemia, and there may or may not be a fever present.

Preventative Measures You Can Take

The most important preventative measure that you can take to keep your cat from being infected by the feline leukemia virus is to keep her away from strays that are possibly infected. The next step is to embark on a complete flea and tick eradication program, including medication. This includes measures to rid your yard of infestation, if your cat is one that goes outside. There are vaccines that can be administered that are very effective. A vaccine is a weakened version of the virus that is administered, usually by injection. Most cats will show no reaction to the vaccination, although some cats may act tired for a few hours or days afterward, as their immune system builds antibodies. Annual booster vaccinations are highly recommended.

All cats are at risk of becoming infected by the feline leukemia virus and thus contracting feline leukemia, which is incurable and fatal. The steps outlined above will help you minimize, if not eradicate, that risk.