All Creatures Veterinary Hospital

All Creatures Veterinary Hospital
4549 HW 62 West
Mountain Home, AR 72653
(870) 425-5175


Feline Leukemia and FIV

Feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV or feline AIDS) are two very important and very serious viral diseases that can be transmitted from one cat to another. Knowing how to protect your cat from these diseases, how to determine if your cat is infected, and what to do if your cat tests positive to one of these viruses is an important part of being a cat owner.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
In the U.S., approximately 3% of healthy cats are infected with FIV. About 15% of sick cats and high risk cats are infected. FIV is transmitted primarily through bite wounds. Non-aggressive contact does not seem to be transmitted from a mother cat to her kittens. Sexual contact is not a major means of spreading the virus. There is no evidence that FIV can be transmitted to humans or dogs. It is a different virus than HIV and has only been shown to infect cats.

Clinical Signs: There is no cure for FIV. The virus slowly attacks he cat's immune system. Infected cats may appear normal for years. However, infection eventually leads to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat's ability to protect itself against common everyday infections. Simple infections can cause severe illness in a cat with FIV. An infected cat may deteriorate progressively or may have recurrent infections with period of apparent health in between. Infected cats may exhibit almost any type of clinical symptoms. Common signs include: poor hair coat, persistent fever, weight loss, and loss of appetite, inflammation of gums or sores in the mouth, recurrent skin infections, upper respiratory infections, bladder infections, and persistent diarrhea and eye problems. Various types of cancer are also much more common in cats with FIV.

Testing: A blood test can be performed at the veterinary clinic to test for antibodies to the virus in the cat's blood. A positive test indicates the presence of antibodies in the blood. Because cats do not clear the virus from their body, a positive antibody test indicates infection with the virus. The only exceptions are antibodies that are present in a kitten from the mother's milk, and antibodies that are present due to vaccination with the FIV vaccine. In these two cases, a cat may test positive and not be infected with the virus. In the case of a kitten that tests positive, it should be retested at six months of age. After six month of age, the mother's antibodies wear off and the kitten should test negative if it has not been infected with the virus. A negative test indicates that no antibodies to FIV were detected in the blood. It may take up to four months before antibodies are formed after a cat has been exposed. Therefore, if a cat has been exposed and tests negative, it should be retested in four months to ensure that the cat is not infected with the virus.

Prevention: The only sure way to protect cats is to prevent exposure to cats with FIV. Since not call cats with FIV appear sick, keeping cats indoors and away from other cats, especially intact male cats, reduces their likelihood of contracting the virus. There is a vaccine to help protect cats against FIV. The vaccine is not 100% effective and it may cause a cat to test positive for antibodies on the FIV test and not be able to determine if it is infected with the virus. If you are considering the FIV vaccine, it is a good idea to have your cat tested before being vaccinated to ensure that the initial test is negative.

Treatment: There is no effective treatment for the FIV virus. There has been limited success with some immune-regulating drugs that boost the cat's immune system. Frequent use of antibiotics may be necessary to treat recurring infections. It is important to keep a close watch for any signs of illness or infection so that treatment can be initiated immediately before infection becomes too severe. FIV cats should be kept indoors so not to expose other outdoor cats to the virus. Keeping the cat indoors also limits his/her exposure to common illness that could prove fatal to an immunosuppressed animal. If there are other cats in the household, whether to separate them from the infected cat is personal decision. All other cats should be tested on a regular basis (every six months) if kept in contact with the infected cat. Infected cats should not be fed raw milk or meat products as this increases the likelihood of contracting a bacterial or parasitic infection from the food.

Prognosis: It is impossible to predict the life expectancy of a cat with FIV. Many cats live for months or even years with the disease. If a cat has had recurrent illness or severe weight loss, a shorter survival time is expected.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
Feline Leukemia is the most important infections disease producing fatal illness in domestic cats today. It is a much more severe and rapidly progressive disease than FIV. FeLV is transmitted through contact with saliva, tears, and possible urine and feces of infected cats. It is much more easily transmitted from one cat to another by casual contact. It is easily transmitted from a mother cat to her kittens and a high percent of kittens are usually infected with the virus. There is no evidence that FeLV can be transmitted to humans or dogs. It has only been shown to infect cats.

Clinical Sign: There is no cure for FeLV. Infected cats may exhibit almost any type of clinical symptoms. Many of the symptoms are the same as signs of FIV and often these two diseases mimic each other clinically. Common signs include: anemia, jaundice, depression, weight loss, loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation, bloody stool, enlarged lymph nodes, respiratory disease, lethargy, excessive drinking and urination, abortion, eye problems, and chronic infections due to a weakened immune system. Various types of cancer are also much more common in cats with FeLV.

Testing: A blood test can be performed at the veterinary clinic to test for the virus in the cat's blood. A positive test indicates that the cat is infected with the virus. A negative test indicates that the virus was not detected in the blood. Sometimes, the virus can be hidden in other parts of the body, so if a cat is suspected of having FeLV or has been exposed to the virus and tests negative, the cat should be retested in three months.

Prevention: The only sure way to protect cats is to prevent exposure to cats with FeLV. Keeping cats indoors reduces their likelihood of contracting the virus. There is a vaccine to help protect cats against FeLV. The vaccine is much more widely accepted as a means of prevention than the FIV vaccine. Although it is not 100% effective, it is safe to use, does provide protection against the virus, and does not cause false positive test results.

Treatment and Prognosis: There is no effective treatment for feline leukemia. There has been some success with immune-regulating drugs that boost the cat's immune system. Following the same precautions as are given for FIV cats can help maximize the health of the infected cat as well as other cats around it. Because transmission of the virus is much more casual than with FIV, separation of an infected cat from other household cats is strongly recommended. A cat with FeLV may live for several weeks to several months, depending on how advanced the disease is. Cats with FeLV generally have a shorter life expectancy than cats with FIV, but it is impossible to tell how long any particular cat will survive.

If you have any questions or concerns about FIV or FeLV, please call our office at (870) 425-5175.