Bengal cat lovers know that having a pet requires caring for their overall well-being. One critical aspect of cat care is knowing the risks associated with contagious cat diseases. The great thing about many contagious diseases is that they can be avoided. This is the case with feline leukemia, also known as FeLV. It is a life-threatening disease, but can be prevented by keeping your Bengal cat away from other cats that have the disease.
What is Feline Leukemia? It is a viral infection caused by the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). It can severely affect a cat’s immune system. This can lead to serious infections, diseases, and even cancer.
FeLV belongs to the retrovirus family. Retroviruses are a type of virus that can insert its genetic material into a cat’s DNA, causing long-term effects. This makes it difficult to rid the body of the virus and leads to long-term serious health problems, many of which are fatal.
How is Feline Leukemia Transmitted?
Feline leukemia is transmitted from cat to cat through the following ways:
Grooming and licking can transmit the virus if one cat is infected and shares saliva with another.
Bite wounds or scratches from an infected cat can give the virus to another cat.
Sharing food and water bowls or litter boxes can also carry the risk of passing the virus.
Infected mother cats can pass the virus to their kittens during pregnancy, birth, or nursing.
Feline leukemia is not transmitted through casual contact like air or surfaces. It is necessary for cats to have direct contact with each other or bodily fluids to pass on the virus.
How Common is Feline Leukemia?
According to various studies, FeLV affects roughly 2-3% of the healthy cat population. That number can be much higher if cats are living in crowded conditions or go outdoors.
Signs of Feline Leukemia
It is important to recognize the early symptoms of feline leukemia, not only for the ill pet, but also to prevent other cats from catching the virus. Some common warning signals include:
Appetite and weight loss
Lethargy and weakness
Pale gums which can indicate anemia
Enlarged lymph nodes
Respiratory or urinary tract infections that occur over and over
Persistent diarrhea or vomiting
Gradual decline in coat quality and decreased grooming
Not all infected cats will show symptoms. Some may be carriers of the virus without displaying any signs. However, if you notice any of these symptoms of Feline Leukemia in your precious kitty, see your veterinarian right away.
Diagnosis: Feline Leukemia Test
Testing for feline leukemia is straightforward and can be done in your vet’s office. This test should be performed on all new kittens and cats before exposing them to any other cats. The screening involves a simple blood test. If the results come back positive, additional confirmatory tests may be recommended. There can be false positive feline leukemia tests so these confirmatory tests can be very important.
Can Cats Survive Feline Leukemia?
The prognosis and life expectancy for cats with feline leukemia can vary from cat to cat. Some cats can come into contact with the virus and have a temporary infection that then clears by itself. Others are infected for life. The prognosis for those permanently infected is poor.
Is Feline Leukemia Treatable?
There is no definitive cure for feline leukemia. There are, however, treatment options that concentrate on managing symptoms and keeping an infected cat comfortable. Some available options include:
Immune system boosters
Antibiotics to address secondary infections
Chemotherapy for FeLV-related cancers
Nutritional support and change in diet
Regular veterinary checkups to monitor and address any new symptoms
This might include providing supportive care, such as administering fluids, maintaining proper nutrition, and providing medications to alleviate specific symptoms.
Feline Leukemia: Prevention is Key!
The only certain way to prevent your Bengal cat from acquiring Feline Leukemia is to prevent them from coming into contact with the Feline Leukemia Virus. The only way to do that is to prevent them from coming into contact with other cats or their belongings. Keeping cats indoors is highly recommended. If outdoor access is allowed, provide supervision to keep them away from other cats or place them in a secure, enclosed environment. You must prevent wandering and fighting.
All new kittens and cats should be immediately tested by a veterinarian prior to taking them to your home if you have other cats there. Infection free cats should be housed separately from infected cats. Food, water bowls, and litter boxes should not be shared.
Unfortunately, many FeLV-infected cats are not diagnosed until after they have lived with other cats. In such cases, all other cats in the household should be tested for FeLV. Ideally, infected and non-infected cats should then be separated to eliminate the potential for FeLV transmission.
If your cat must go outdoors, you should follow the following precautions:
Vaccination: Vaccination is the primary way of protecting your cat from FeLV if the kitty is going to be outdoors. Keeping your Bengal cat inside is the best option. If they do not come into contact with other infected cats, they will not contract Feline Leukemia. The vaccine is not without side effects, some of which can be life-threatening. It is also not 100% effective. Keeping your Bengal indoors or in an outdoor secured area is always the best option.
Regular checkups: Routine veterinary checkups can help detect FeLV infection early, increasing the chance of successful management.
Feline leukemia is a serious health concern for all cat parents, including Bengal cats. While the prognosis may vary, recognizing early signs and seeking prompt veterinary intervention can significantly improve your cat's quality of life. Regular testing, vaccination, and responsible pet care practices can help keep your beloved feline friend happy and healthy.