Cats are pretty resilient, always landing on their feet and whatnot. There are some things that even cats can’t be totally safe from, such as a few diseases that, despite the miracles of modern medicine, can make the healthiest cat crumble.

In particular, infection with the viruses that cause feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency syndrome (FIV) can be devastating. Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital knows how horrible these diseases can be and want cat owners everywhere to know how to best protect their pets from FeLV and FIV. 

Understanding FeLV and FIV

FeLV and FIV are both retroviruses (in the same category as HIV) that infect felines specifically. Beyond that, they are pretty different, although they are often lumped into the same conversations.

Feline leukemia is a particularly devastating disease, accounting for a majority of feline deaths every year. Cats can be exposed to FeLV through their mother or contact with bodily secretions including saliva.

Many cats who are exposed to FeLV are able to fight it off and remain healthy. Some cats, however, are not so lucky and the virus heads to the bone marrow where it can hide for years before emerging and causing illness.

Cats with active FeLV infection have virus-related damage inflicted to their cells, resulting in cancerous-like tumors and changes. Most cats succumb to this disease within a few years of diagnosis.

FIV on the other hand requires much more intentional contact to contract. It is often spread through bite wounds. Much like HIV it suppresses the immune system, making the affected cat very susceptible to infection. 

FIV-infected cats often can live fairly normal lifespans after diagnosis but cannot be cured. They require extra vigilant care to protect them from infection and disease. 

Protecting Your Pet

Since FeLV and FIV are not curable diseases, prevention is the name of the game. There is a lot that you can do as a pet owner, though, to help protect your pet. 

Take steps to reduce your cat’s risk by:

Being sure to test – We are readily able to detect FeLV and FIV infection through blood testing. Be sure to know the status of all cats in your home and retest regularly, especially for those pets who do go outdoors. Also test any new additions to your home in order to prevent accidentally exposing your existing pets to disease.

Vaccinating – We do not currently have a good vaccine against FIV, but we do have one that is very effective for feline leukemia. Kittens and cats who are under two years of age are at higher risk for contracting FeLV, likely due to a weaker immune system. Vaccination is strongly encouraged for young cats as well as annually for any cat at high risk (goes outdoors, in a home with FeLV positive cats, etc.)

Stopping exposure – Since feline retroviruses are contracted through exposure to other cats, you have a lot of power to decrease or eliminate exposure. If possible keep your cat indoors. For cats who spend time outdoors, remember that spaying or neutering can decrease your cat’s interactions with other cats as most bite wounds occur during mating or fighting.

Please give us a call if you need help protecting your cat or if you have questions about FeLV and FIV. They are not fun diseases, but there is a lot that you can do proactively to ensure a longer, healthier life for your feline friend.