There is a partial myth circulating that strikes fear in many a cat lover’s heart. For some who have heard the term feline leukemia positive (FeLV+) the first thought is; Leukemia? It’s a sick cat? Vet bills? I’ll catch something? It will die within the week! Well maybe, yes and no.
First, no you can‘t catch feline leukemia. Cats are the only species susceptible to the virus. To date epidemiologists’ studies have failed to show any evidence it can be transmitted to humans.
Feline leukemia is caused by a retrovirus. However, a good percentage of healthy cats have a strong enough immune system to fight the disease before it establishes itself. Infected apparently asymptomatic cats carry the dormant virus in bone marrow and can pass the virus to other cats.
With an adult cat that has been in the carrier stage for a year or so, remained healthy and grown through kitten-hood it may well indicate the cat won’t develop the full-blown disease for many years if at all. With good care, a high protein diet and a relatively stress free environment kitty could lead a long and full life. Unfortunately, if feline leukemia does reach the next stage there is no treatment. The cat will inevitably become very sick and die.
The virus spreads from cat to cat via moist contact. Examples would be through infected saliva, urine or direct transfer from mother to kittens. Feline leukemia is not an airborne disease and the virus is very fragile. Ordinary household detergents and bleach will effectively kill it on surfaces. It is though thought to be able to survive for up to 48 hours in an environment such as a dirty litter box. Some sources have suggested the virus could survive longer.
Some health issues are possible in otherwise healthy carrier cats. Specifically the immune system can be compromised hence the need for good basic preventative care and the high quality diet. A sensible precaution would be to avoid feeding uncooked food and unpasteurized dairy produce. There is a higher risk of food-borne bacterial and parasitic infections in immunosuppressed cats. Vet checks are recommended six to twelve monthly and vaccinations annually.
Dental health is especially important for feline leukemia positive cats; they seem more susceptible to periodontal disease. Dental problems can result in serious health issues especially if infected gums bleed. This could create an excellent portal for plaque bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
Carrier cats should live exclusively indoors or remain in the confines of an enclosed cat run. There is a two-fold reason for this. You do not want kitty interacting with animals possibly carrying other diseases and it helps prevent your cat spreading feline leukemia out into the neighborhood.