It’s about that time of year again. You may have started noticing all of the neighbourhood cats creeping back outdoors now that the snow has melted. You may also notice the same behaviour in your own cat, who attempts to zig-zag through your ankles each morning as you reach for the daily newspaper. Either way, whether your cat is a yearly outdoors cat or an occasional escape artist…he needs to be protected!
Being outdoors, no matter how little, can heighten your cat’s exposure to other felines. Many owners are great at protecting their cats against well known diseases such as rabies. But, there is one disease which is usually forgotten. This disease is feline leukemia(FeLV), and it can be detrimental to your cat’s survival.
Feline Leukemia is a widespread virus within the cat population. It is passed on to other cats through the saliva or blood of the infected cat, and can easily occur during a brawl. Most infected cats will build up an immunity to this disease, but those who don’t, can become very ill. The disease can spread to the bone marrow and can also cause other illnesses due to its immunosuppresant effects. Many cats who are exposed to this virus may get cancers. Others may not even show symptoms of infection but can still spread the virus to other cats. As well, these asymptomatic cats may only show signs of illness if they become stressed or under the weather. This can be dangerous and easy to unwillingly spread to other uninfected cats.
Diagnoses of feline leukemia can usually be done with a blood test which looks for a specific antigen. Other tests may include: a complete blood count, blood chemistry tests, x-rays, and bone marrow aspiration. Some of these tests may be done right in your own veterinary clinic while you wait.
Treatment for FeLV depends on which part of the body has become affected by the virus. If the virus spreads to the bone marrow, then there is no treatment available, but supportive therapy can be given. This may include medication and possibly blood transfusions. If the virus has caused other issues such as lymphoma (cancer), then treatment may include chemotherapy and medication, as well as supportive therapy. Infected cats are considered a source of infection for others and have to be kept separate from other cats.
Unfortunately the prognosis for feline leukemia is not very good. As mentioned above, supportive care is pretty much the only method of caring for these cats once they become infected. Statistics show that 85% of cats infected with this virus will die within 3 years of being diagnosed (Veterinary Information Network).
With such high mortality rates, why not prevent it in the first place? At Lansdowne Animal Hospital, it costs slightly less than 5 cents a day/on a yearly basis to protect your cat. Since cats are most susceptible to this virus as kittens, it is best to booster your kitten twice initially, followed by one booster yearly. We also have FeLV tests available if needed, or if you’re unsure whether or not your cat has been exposed.
With the nice weather, outdoor cat populations increase. Be proactive and ask us about vaccinating your cat today, your cat will thank you for it down the road!