Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) infection
is responsible for more deaths among cats than any other
infectious disease. The virus affects domestic cats and
occurs in some wild felines as well.
There are three main types of feline
leukemia. FeLV-positive cats can be infected with one, two,
or all three:
~FeLV-A occurs in all FeLV-infected
cats and causes severe immunosuppression (weakened immune
~FeLV-B occurs in about 50% of all FeLV-infected cats and
causes more neoplastic disease (i.e., tumors and other
abnormal tissue growths) than cats infected only with FeLV-A.
~FeLV-C occurs in about 1% of FeLV-infected cats and causes
severe anemia. FeLV is one of the most devastating feline
diseases worldwide. FeLV infects about 2% to 3% of all cats.
Sick cats are four times more likely
than healthy cats to be infected with FeLV. Researchers
estimate that about 50% of cats with severe bacterial
infections, and 75% of cats with toxoplasmosis, a protozoan
disease, also have FeLV infections.
Males are 1.7 times more likely to be
infected than females, and younger cats are more susceptible
to infection than older cats. FeLV is found mostly in cats
from 1 to 6 years old; the average age is 3 years. Outdoor
cats are more likely to be infected with FeLV. Less than 1%
of healthy indoor cats in the United States are infected
with FeLV, compared to 1% to 2% of healthy outdoor cats, and
more than 13% of sick stray cats. FeLV is more common in
multicat households than in single-cat households,
especially when cats go outdoors.
FeLV usually spreads through infected
saliva. It can also spread through infected urine, tears,
and feces, and through an infected mother to her kittens
during gestation and nursing. Twenty percent of FeLV-positive
mothers pass the virus to their kittens. Methods of
transmission include the following:
Bite wounds from infected cats (more
common among outdoor and indoor-outdoor cats); Blood
transfusions; Mouth and nose contact with infected saliva or
urine; Mutual grooming; Nose-to-nose contact; Shared food
dishes and water bowls; Shared litter trays; Sneezing.
Veterinarian researchers generally
agree that FeLV cannot be transmitted to humans.
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