Feline leukosis, or feline leukemogenic virus (from the Greek leukos = white and haima = blood) is a virus that contributes to the development of cancer by excessive production of immature and altered white blood cells (leukocytes). However, infection with the FeLV virus does not systematically lead to leucosis. However, if so, the disease is usually fatal to our domestic cats. For this reason, one of the most curious questions of cat owners is "how long can a cat live with feline leukemia"
What Is Feline Leukemia
Before answering the question "how long can a cat live with feline leukemia ", let's get more detailed information about this disease. Feline leukemia is a viral disease that only affects cats and causes immunosuppression and the appearance of cancerous tumors. Cats living with several other cats or living in a cattery as well as those who live with stray cats are more at risk of contracting the virus. Infected cats secrete it in their saliva, tears, and urine. Transmission is most often during grooming and play. The virus can also be transmitted through the blood as well as through the placenta. Since the virus is very sensitive to heat, dryness, and disinfectants, environmental contamination is not a significant problem.
The virus most often enters the body through the mouth or nasal cavities when the cat comes into contact with infected blood, saliva, or urine. Subsequently, the virus multiplies in the pharynx. If the ensuing immune response is effective, the infection will be eliminated. Otherwise, viremia (presence of the virus in the blood) will set in, and then the virus will multiply in the lymphoid tissues. Again at this stage, there may be a clearance of the virus if an adequate immune response develops. Subsequently, if the virus is not eliminated, it will invade the bone marrow where it will multiply and infect the white blood cells and blood platelets which will be released into the circulation. When it has infected the salivary and lacrimal glands as well as the bladder, the cat will excrete the virus via their secretions. Without being eliminated from the body, it can also remain confined in the various tissues of the body and not be present in the blood for indefinite periods. The cat is then said to be a latent carrier. During stress or illness, it can become transiently viraemic.
Infected cats may show non-specific signs such as fever, loss of appetite, and depression. These are generally related to the very recent presence of the virus in the blood. Weakness and anorexia can also be caused by anemia or malignancy. Additionally, symptoms of recurrent infections such as weight loss, diarrhea, and runny nose and eyes are often seen when the virus is persistently present in the blood. Depending on the organs and tissues affected, more specific symptoms will be apparent.
During the physical examination, depression, weakness, and poor physical condition may be noted due to immunosuppression, chronic infections, or cancer. Lymph nodes may be enlarged, anemia may cause pale mucous membranes, decreased neutrophil count may cause signs of generalized infection, and decreased blood platelet count may be responsible for bleeding. The presence of a mass in the chest can cause the cat to have difficulty breathing. Less frequently, symptoms related to anemia caused by the destruction of red blood cells by the immune system, kidney damage, and joint damage may be noted. Bone abnormalities and neurological deficits may also be present.
Basic tests such as blood profiles can reveal changes that may be non-specific and/or associated with bone marrow infection. A urinalysis may be completely normal or may show the presence of opportunistic infections and proteins. With chest X-rays, a lump can sometimes be seen as well as the accumulation of fluid around the lungs.
There are serological tests that can diagnose feline leukemia more directly. These are the ELISA (Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay) test and the IFA (Immunofluorescent Antibody) test. The first test detects free virus antigen in blood while the second detects antigen in infected white blood cells and blood platelets. A positive result in the latter test indicates that bone marrow cells are actively producing the virus.
When we want to know if a cat has contracted the virus, we first perform the ELISA test. It is a rapid screening test done in the clinic and is inexpensive. When we test negative in a healthy cat, we are pretty sure it does not have leukemia because the test can detect the presence of very small amounts of antigens in the blood. On the other hand, the test sometimes produces false positives (the test claims that the cat has leukemia when it is not true). That is why, when we face a positive result, we are going to want to confirm it with the IFA test (blood test carried out in an external laboratory). In the event of a positive result for the latter, we then have the virtual certainty that the cat has leukemia.
When both tests are positive, this indicates that the cat is viraemic and will be infected for life. When a healthy cat is ELISA-positive and IFA-negative, it usually indicates that the infection is transient, early in lifelong infection (before the bone marrow is infected), that the cat is an immune carrier against a sequestered infection, or that the ELISA result is a false positive. For this reason, it is recommended that cats in this situation be retested 2-3 months later.
In the case of a latent carrier, both the ELISA test and the IFA test will be negative. To detect the virus, it will then be necessary to make bone marrow cultures.
Following the acquisition of the virus, the infection may either regress or progress. Normally, the infection can regress if the virus has not invaded the bone marrow. Full recovery can then be expected. During a progressive infection, the cat will be persistently viraemic and therefore likely to develop one or other of the diseases caused by leukemia. When an asymptomatic cat has a positive IFA test result or a cat with compatible symptoms tests positive for any of the tests, it is considered to have a persistent infection. Within 4 years, 90% of these cats will be dead but their quality of life during this period is often excellent. There are even some cats that seem to live longer than expected even though their ELISA test is persistently positive. The prognosis for cats that develop lymphoma, leukemia, and bone marrow abnormalities is poor.
How Long Can A Cat Live With Feline Leukemia
As for the answer to the question of how long can a cat live with feline leukemia; healthy cats with a good immune system can sometimes completely fight off viruses. However, if the disease occurs, the sick cat usually cannot survive for more than 3 years. The physiological structure of each cat is different, so the answer to this question also varies according to the case. Unfortunately, 85% of cats diagnosed with feline leukemia die within three years of this diagnosis. The average duration is 2.4 to 2.5 years.
While immunosuppressed cats survive longer, cats that are susceptible even before their leukemia diagnosis usually go through the disease stages more quickly. Kittens, especially those younger than eight months old, are more likely to experience infection as their immune systems are still developing. For this reason, we can say that a kitten is affected by the disease faster and more than an adult strong cat.
The treatment of the feline leukemia
Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment to eliminate the infection. Attempts can be made to control symptoms caused by secondary infections and blood abnormalities. Chemotherapy may be used when lymphoma (a type of tumor) is present. When the anemia is very severe, blood transfusions can be used. The response to treatment is often poor when the cat has severe anemia, leukemia, and bone marrow abnormalities.
The best way to prevent infection is to keep cats out. If this is not possible, it is necessary to vaccinate those who are at risk of contracting the virus, that is to say, cats who live with several other cats and those who have contact with outdoor cats. Vaccination of cats that are already affected by leukemia is unnecessary although it does not risk causing the disease. However, it has been associated with the development of sarcoma (cancer) at the injection site. Basic vaccination, vaccination against rabies as well as the prevention of frequent contagious and inflammatory diseases are important for these cats. Care should be taken to avoid introducing young kittens into an environment where there is a cat infected with leukemia, and any new cat should be tested for leukemia before being introduced into an environment with multiple cats.
What is the leukemia vaccine for?
Transmitted by various forms of interaction between cats, including contact with the animal's saliva or during the birth of a contaminated kitten, viral leukemia in cats does not have a specific treatment, and only the symptoms of the affected domestic animals, in search of a better quality of life.
The feline leukemia virus (FeLV) vaccine is the main and most efficient form of prevention, and although the disease can also be avoided through some specific care to protect your pet, without the vaccine, any care can be little before the possibility that your feline is infected by this disease.
The leukemia vaccine is a vaccine for cats. You can see the vaccination protocols in the vaccines for cats section. Recommended administration schedule depends on whether he is a puppy or an adult cat. When you vaccinate kittens, 2-3 doses are given (depending on the age of vaccination start), with a separation of 3-4 weeks between each application. In adults, the vaccination dose is recommended once a year.
The trivalent cat vaccine is very often given in conjunction with this leukemia vaccine.
The feline leukemia vaccine will be recommended in cases of cats that may be in direct contact with stray cats or cats that live with others infected with this virus and that may transmit the disease.
If your kitten is a puppy and is vaccinated for the first time, it is necessary to check that it does not already have the virus.
The immunodeficiency and leukemia test detects if there has been infection by one of these two viruses, which cause immunosuppression. Whenever there has been a risk of contracting one of these viruses, it is necessary to do the test before any vaccination on a cat.
The risks of vaccinating a cat with an immunodeficiency or leukemia virus with the leukemia vaccine or the trivalent vaccine are that the vaccine may not be effective, and, above all, that it may negatively affect the cat's immune system.
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