Feline leukaemia virus – our guide to this deadly disease

1st March 2017


At Bollington Veterinary Centre we are continually helping our feline friends to fight the battle against Feline Leukaemia Virus through vaccinations. Of all the vaccines available for cats, this is one of the most important.

Feline leukaemia virus (also known as FeLV) is an incurable viral infection that will cause a fatal illness in infected cats. It’s estimated that around 1 in 100 cats in Britain is permanently infected, and most cats that become infected die within 5 years.


What are the signs?

At first, most of the signs are mild, varied and easily missed. At Bollington Veterinary Centre our vets are always on the look out, and will become suspicious for many reasons. Some of the signs we see include;

  • Fever – a cat with a raised temperature for more than a few days
  • Tiredness – some cats will become lethargic as a result of the fever
  • Weight loss – infected cats will tend to lose condition
  • Diarrhoea – usually persistent or recurring
  • Anaemia – look for pale gums and mucous membranes
  • Cancer – they can develop cancer of the lymph nodes


Diagnosing Feline Leukaemia Virus

If we are suspicious and need to confirm whether a cat is or is not infected, we will always take a blood test.

We can sometimes do these tests in our in-house lab, however we may also recommend sending the blood sample away to an external laboratory. Depending on the signs, history and each individual cat’s circumstances, the vet will decide which test is most appropriate.


How does a cat become infected?

The virus is found in blood, saliva, urine and other body fluids of infected cats, so healthy cats can become infected though licking, biting, sharing food bowls and using the same litter trays.

Kittens can also become infected in the womb but usually die before birth. If a kitten survives and is born alive, then it will also be infected.


Our top tips to keep your cat safe

  • Vaccinate – this is the best way to prevent infection. It is very effective, but does need to be given regularly to all cats that go outside. If your cat isn’t vaccinated or has vaccines that have lapsed, talk to us so we can help.
  • Neuter – unneutered cats tend to wander further and will get into more conflict and fights. They can easily become infected through cat fights and bites. Make sure your cat is neutered.
  • Cat flaps – use a secure cat flap to prevent unwanted attention and intrusion of stray cats. This will reduce the chance of food bowls being contaminated and fights in the home
  • Hygiene – wash food bowls and litter trays regularly


Is vaccination safe?

All vaccinations carry a small risk of side effects. Some cats can develop a slight reaction and become a bit lethargic and quiet for a couple of days, but soon bounce back. Some cats will also develop a small lump at the injection site that can last several weeks. If this happens, don’t worry but do let us know so that we can advise you.

If you want more information, call us and make an appointment to speak to one of our clinicians.


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