Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) attacks the immune system of the cat, making them more susceptible to other infections, and to developing cancer. Because the virus attacks the immune system, cats may become sick or even die from other diseases they have been vaccinated against, such as Feline Respiratory Disease (cat flu) and Feline Enteritis.
FeLV is relatively fragile in the environment, which means it can only be transmitted by direct contact between cats. In close contact, however, it is a highly contagious disease, passed on through saliva, urine and faeces. An infected queen always infects her litter of kittens.
A study at Murdoch University in Perth found that 7-8% of healthy cats and 11% of sick cats were positive to the virus. Feline Leukaemia is thought to be the second biggest killer of our cats. All cats are at risk if they come in contact with other cats, whether wild or domestic.
Initial signs often include weight loss, lethargy and generally poor health. Signs can, however, be extremely varied as the virus makes the body susceptible to a wide range of diseases and infections.
Unfortunately, there is no treatment available for FeLV. The emphasis is on prevention of the disease and limiting its spread through vaccination. Happily, there is an effective vaccine to control Feline Leukaemia, which threatens our entire cat population.
Kittens need two injections, which can be given at the same time as their core vaccinations. Adults also need two injections initially, but usually require blood testing first to make sure they haven’t already got the disease. After that, yearly booster shots are required, which are normally given at the same time as routine vaccinations.