Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV)
FeLV (Feline Leukaemia Virus) has become one of the most important viruses affecting the cat world. At least 10% of the cats in the UK are believed to be carrying the virus. The virus is contagious, spreading between cats by direct contact (mutual grooming, bites, sexual contact etc.) and by indirect contact (food bowls, litter trays etc.). In addition, infected mothers infect their kittens before or after birth.
A large percentage of cats that contract the virus will develop the disease. The disease can take various forms:
- Lymphosarcoma (a glandular cancer)
- Leukaemia (blood cell cancer)
- Immunosurpression (hence death due to other infections)
- Kidney failure
Cats that contract the virus and subsequently develop the disease always die, although in some cases survival can be prolonged by chemotherapy.
A major breakthrough in the control of FeLV has been the development of a vaccine that protects against FeLV. The vaccine is available at Animed and, like the flu/enteritis vaccine, is given as a primary course of two injections, three weeks apart. The vaccine can be given at the same time as flu/enteritis vaccines. The vaccine will not protect cats that are already infected at the time of vaccination. A blood test can be done to identify carriers (infected cats not showing signs of disease) prior to vaccination but this is not essential as vaccination of carriers does no known harm. Widespread vaccination will reduce the level of virus in the cat population making it a safer world for all cats.
FeLV is a different virus from FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), a similarly devastating virus. Infection by FIV, however, along with other cat infections, is made more likely in the presence of FeLV.
In summary we recommend all cats are vaccinated against FeLV. This is a requirement of many catteries.