Feline leukemia, a disease of friendly cats

Feline leukemia, a disease of friendly cats

This virus is present worldwide, and Chile has one of the highest rates of infection.

August is definitely the month of cats, for this reason it is important to strengthen the prevention and care of our pets, as during this period of the year they are much more restless. Therefore, it is important to know about feline leukemia, considered one of the most serious viral diseases along with feline immunodeficiency virus. Both are capable of causing changes in the immune system and are currently the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in cats.

Specialist and veterinarian from Gabrica ( Susana Salas defines feline leukemia as “a viral disease caused by rotavirus that affects most domestic cats and sporadically infects feral cats.

“Clinical manifestations of feline leukemia are divided into 2 large groups, neoplastic And non-tumor, with the latter being the most common, in about 70% of cases. Neoplastic manifestations are lymphoma in about 30% of infected cats, and this can contribute to the development of other infectious diseases or cause anemia, a decrease in the number of immune system cells and non-specific chronic diseases, ”says the expert from Gabrika.

The clinical signs that cats usually show are very varied, such as fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and weight. But respiratory, skin, and intestinal symptoms are also common. The most common signs are:

  • Lack of appetite.
  • Progressive weight loss.
  • Hair in poor condition.
  • enlarged knots.
  • persistent fever
  • Pale gums.
  • urinary or respiratory infection
  • Persistent diarrhea.

The feline leukemia virus affects the body in different ways. On the one hand, it is a major cause of cancer in cats and can also lead to an immunodeficiency state that can weaken the immune system’s ability to defend itself against other infections.. For this reason, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi that do not normally cause a serious problem in a healthy cat can cause a serious illness in an infected cat. These secondary effects are the cause of many diseases associated with the feline leukemia virus. Also, not all infected cats become ill or show symptoms by infecting other cats.

Feline leukemia, which is also known as “the disease of friendly or outgoing cats”, Susana Salas de Gabrica explains that “it is so named because of the type of infection, because it occurs through direct contact with nasal secretions. sharing of water and food, as well as direct contact when grooming or licking between infected cats and even in typical fights this month through bites. Thus, the most vulnerable are cats that live with other infected cats, those that have access to the street, as well as newborn infected cats. All of these situations have a high infection rate.

Although the virus is present worldwide, Chile has one of the highest infection rates and this is because there is a high percentage of asymptomatic positive patients who act as a reservoir and shed the virus en masse. Similarly, veterinarian Gabrika adds that at a consultation each year, she can diagnose 30% of cats that test positive for the virus and are symptomatic, and 20% of positive cats have the virus but are clinically healthy.

Cats in which the disease progresses usually die 2 to 3 years after infection. In most infected cats, the virus becomes embedded in the pet’s DNA and can potentially reactivate even years later. Along with this, in many pets, after showing symptoms and receiving this palliative treatment, the biggest consequence is that all protective cells are affected by this pathology, due to which they are exposed to common infections that can cause death.

Feline leukemia and AIDS in cats are often confused. The specialist points out that “both diseases are caused by a virus from the same family, they are genetically and structurally different, but have some similarities in the clinical picture, since both cause immunosuppression and can cause multisystem failure in the patient.”

Regarding treatment, Gabrika’s veterinarian notes that “in general, this type of pathology has no curative treatment, only symptomatic, which consists of various protocols depending on the symptomatology, ranging from immunotherapy, antiviral drugs, chemotherapy and ending with immunostimulating drugs (interferon alfa and omega )”.

But can a vaccinated cat contract the disease? “The first vaccination does not guarantee lifelong protection, so it must be revaccinated to prevent the decrease in antibodies and infection of the cat. It is advisable to start vaccination at 12 weeks of age and repeat at 16 weeks after the first vaccination and finally a third dose at 24-26 weeks after the last vaccination. It must be taken into account that the vaccine must be given to patients who have been tested and have received a negative result for feline leukemia, ”adds specialist Susana Salas.

In conclusion, it is important to advise pet owners, especially this month, to “first vaccinate cats from an early age, keep them indoors as long as possible to avoid contact with other animals whose medical history is unknown, spay and maintain annual prophylaxis.” For more information go to

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