Feline leukaemia (FeLV) is one of the major causes of death among cats. It affects the auto-immune system leaving the cat with weakened defence mechanisms against infections.
Feline leukaemia is very contagious and, because it is carried in saliva (among other things) outside cats, especially toms, can be very susceptible to this disease due to fighting. Because FeLV is an auto-immune disorder, it is common for an infected cat to succumb to a number of illnesses. Blood diseases, cancers and secondary infections may occur. FeLV will ultimately prove fatal.
Symptoms may not appear for some weeks after the initial infection. Over time, symptoms will progressively get worse and eventually death will result.
Early symptoms may be relatively minor such as loss of coat condition and brightness, weight loss and loss of appetite. Later, more serious symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, gum and eye infections, coughing, bladder infections, pale gums, persistent diarrhoea (sometimes containing blood), and seizures.
Transmission of FeLV is by fluids. Nasal discharges, saliva, faeces, and urine are all possible contaminants as are shared food and water bowls, etc. The disease can be passed on by mutual grooming. Kittens can pick up the disease in utero, through drinking milk from an infected mother or by the mother cleaning her kitten. Bites and infection from saliva through fighting is a common way of transmission, particularly in outdoor cats.
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The best way to find out whether your cat has FeLV is to visit your veterinarian who will probably recommend a blood test.
Care is restricted to keeping the cat comfortable as there is no cure.