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Healthy Cats

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Facts About Feline Leukemia Virus

Diagnosing Feline Leukemia Virus

Your veterinarian can diagnose the disease by conducting a simple blood test called an ELISA, which identifies FeLV proteins in the blood. This test is highly sensitive and can identify cats with very early infections. It is important to remember that some cats will manage to clear the infection within a few months and will subsequently test negative.

A second blood test, the IFA, detects the progressive phase of the infection, and cats with positive results for this test are unlikely to clear the virus. The IFA test is performed at a laboratory, rather than in your vet’s clinic. In general, cats that are IFA-positive have a poor long-term prognosis.

Treatment for Feline Leukemia Virus

Eighty-five percent of cats persistently infected with feline leukemia virus die within three years of diagnosis. However, regular veterinary check-ups and good preventive health care can help keep these cats feeling well for some time and help protect them from secondary infection. Twice-yearly physical examinations, laboratory testing, and parasite control can prevent complications and identify problems quickly. All FeLV infected cats should be kept indoors and be neutered.

There is presently no cure for FeLV infection. Secondary infections can be treated as they appear, and cats with cancer can receive chemotherapy. However, the prognosis is grave for cats with bone marrow compromise or widespread lymphoma.

Protecting Your Cat From Feline Leukemia Virus

Keeping your cat indoors and away from infected cats is a sure way to prevent him from contracting FeLV. In addition, vaccines can be given to cats at high risk of exposure, such as those who go outside or live in shelters or catteries. Only cats that test negative for FeLV should be vaccinated, and even those that have received the vaccine should be tested annually because of the possibility of exposure and infection.

New cats or kittens over eight weeks of age should be tested for the virus before being introduced to a multi-cat household. Most veterinarians counsel against introducing a new cat into a household with a FeLV-positive cat, because he or she may be at risk for contracting the infection – even with vaccination. In addition, the stress of a newcomer may adversely affect the FeLV-positive cat.

WebMD Veterinary Reference

Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on September 15, 2014
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