Q: My neighbors have been talking about a cat that has Feline Leukemia.
I don’t have cats, so I really don’t know much about it. But I do have a dog — should I be worried for my dog? R.S., Farragut
A: No need to worry for your dog. Feline leukemia is a cat virus, and it does not affect dogs.
But any of your friends and neighbors who do have cats should be aware of the disease. Feline Leukemia is the most common fatal virus affecting pet cats in this country. The virus can infect cats of all ages, but kittens are most susceptible.
The disease is spread primarily through saliva but also through urine, feces and other body fluids.
Pregnant cats can transmit the virus to their kittens through the placenta and by nursing.
The virus has been shown to be transmitted between cats living together in close contact for extended periods of time.
These cats are most likely contrac-ting the disease by grooming each other and sharing food bowls, water bowls, and litterboxes.
The Feline Leukemia virus can cause lymphosarcoma, a type of cancer that is most often fatal in cats when it is due to the virus.
It can also cause anemia, diseases of the bone marrow, reproductive disorders and a multitude of chronic infections.
Most cats (about 80 to 90 percent) will succumb to the disease within three years after diagnosis.
Diagnosis is most often done with a blood sample. There are several available, including one that can be done in your veterinarian’s office.
These tests take only a few minutes, detecting chemicals called antigens that circulate in the bloodstream.
Due to the contagious nature of this virus, the American Academy of Feline Practitioners recommends the Feline Leukemia status of every cat be known.
We routinely test new kittens or adult cats on their first visit, in addition to sick cats.
There are currently no great antiviral drugs to treat infected cats. Some of the human antiviral drugs have been studied, but they are expensive, and no long term safety studies have been completed yet.
Treatment generally consists of treating the secondary conditions and infections.
There are immune stimulating products that can be prescribed, and some may be of benefit, but they are also unproven at this point.
Prevention is currently the best course of action. There are vaccines available for Feline Leukemia.
Kittens should be vaccinated, as they are most susceptible. Cats that have potential exposure to other cats also should be vaccinated, according to your veterinarian’s recommendations.
Cats should be kept indoors as much as possible to limit potential exposure.
If you find and/or adopt a new cat or kitten, he/she should be kept separate from your other cats until he/she can be examined and tested by your veterinarian.
If you have questions about your cat or dog, you may e-mail them to Dr. Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org