Feline Leukemia and Feline Immundeficiency Virus

Feline leukemia and feline immundeficiency virus are contagious viral infections in cats which are quite serious in nature. The feline immunodeficiency virus is also referred to as FIV, or feline AIDS.

It is strongly recommended that the feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus status of all cats be determined by blood testing.

Both of these diseases are viral in nature and are contagious from cat to cat.  It is quite possible for a cat to be carrying either of these diseases and not show symptoms of disease. Therefore, the only way to determine whether your cat has been exposed to one or both viruses is with a blood test.

It should also be remembered that feline leukemia can be passed from a mother cat to her kittens. All new cats should be tested before introducing them to the household, especially if there are other cats living in the household.

Positive tests to either feline leukemia or FIV in the absence of clinical signs of illness simply indicate that your cat has been exposed to the virus in question. It does not necessarily mean that your cat will become ill and die from the disease, although that it a possibility and your cat should be closely watched for any signs of illness.

What a positive test does indicate is that your cat may be capable of spreading the disease to other cats, so it is advisable to keep positive cats separate from others.

If your cat does test positive, your veterinarian may recommend retesting your cat after a period of several months to determine if he/she is still testing positive at that point.

Facts About Feline Leukemia:

  • Symptoms of feline leukemia can present in many different ways. Often, the virus acts by decreasing the cat's resistance to other diseases. The first signs you see may be related to an upper respiratory or other type of infection.  These symptoms may be recurrent in nature. Leukemia can affect the blood (causing anemia), the internal organs (causing signs of kidney or liver failure), or can form tumors (less frequently).
  • Feline leukemia is contagious from cat to cat. However, the virus is not long-lived outside the cat's body. Therefore, cats that live indoors and do not socialize with other cats are unlikely to contract the disease.
  • Licking, sneezing, fighting, sharing food bowls, and/or sharing litter pans may spread feline leukemia.
  • A positive feline leukemia test in an otherwise healthy cat indicates exposure to the disease. It does not necessarily mean your cat will become symptomatic of the disease. However, it does mean that close observation is essential. It also means that there is a danger of exposing other cats to the virus.
  • There is no successful treatment once your cat becomes ill from feline leukemia. Feline leukemia is a major cause of death in cats.
  • Diagnosis is made based on clinical signs and a blood test.
  • Currently, it is estimated that 30% of all stray cats are infected.
  • Due to the serious nature of the disease, vaccination against feline leukemia should be considered for all cats who spend all or part of their lives outdoors.
  • Feline leukemia is NOT contagious to people.

Facts About Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV, or Feline AIDS):

  • Unlike feline leukemia, FIV is more frequently seen in mature cats.
  • Although the virus is similar in nature to the feline leukemia virus, cats infected with FIV do not test positive for feline leukemia.
  • Spread of the virus is through contact with other infected cats. Cat fights are the most common means of infection.
  • A positive FIV test in an otherwise healthy cat indicates exposure to the disease. It does not mean necessarily mean that your cat will become symptomatic of the disease. However, it does mean that close observation is mandatory. It also means that your cat may be capable of spreading the virus to other cats.
  • Signs of the disease include swollen lymph nodes, severe weight loss, diarrhea, respiratory infections, anemia, and parasitic infections. The virus responsible for FIV will depress your cat's immune system, making him/her more susceptible to secondary infections.
  • FIV infection should be suspected in any cat that has repeated infections or continually gets in fights with other cats.
  • A vaccine for FIV is available, but remains somewhat controversial at this point in time. Your veterinarian will help you decide whether your cat is a candidate for this vaccine or not.
  • There is no evidence to indicate that the disease is transmittable to humans. Cat owners should not be concerned that their cats could expose them to human AIDS or HIV.
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