Cat Health

Feline Leukemia Virus

Commonly called FeLV, feline leukemia is a virus in cats that is transmitted through saliva, blood, and occasionally from the mom when she is pregnant. FeLV is one of the most common infectious diseases in cats.

Symptoms of FeLV vary and cats may initially show fever and lethargy or will display no symptoms if the immune system is sufficiently controlling the virus. This suppression can last for years if the cat stays healthy otherwise. However, because the majority of cats with FeLV are outdoor cats, they are more susceptible to other disease and infection. If the immune system is or becomes compromised, other diseases related to FeLV will arise including anemia, liver diseases, intestinal disease, cancer, and decreased immune system. As the virus affects the immune system chronic upper respiratory infections, gingival disease, and poor wound healing may occur more often.

FeLV can be tested here, in-clinic, through a simple blood test. At Parker Center Animal Clinic, we recommend testing all kittens at their 1st vaccination visit. They will be tested again with the pre-operative bloodwork for their spay or neuter. Cats who spend time outdoors should also be tested. All kittens are vaccinated for FeLV at their first two vaccination appointments since they are more prone to the infection due to a decreased immune system. Cats who regularly spend time outdoors or who live with other FeLV cats should be vaccinated yearly.

Although there is no cure for FeLV, cats can have a relatively good quality of life and some can even live to their full life expectancy. However, if a cat develops cancer due to the disease the prognosis and life expectancy are poor.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

FIV is another virus specific to cats belonging to the same family of viruses as human HIV. This virus causes suppression of the immune system meaning the cat’s white blood cell count is diminished leading to a decreased ability to fight infection. The virus is passed through the blood, saliva, and other fluids of infected cats, typically through bite wounds. It can also be passed from mother to kitten during pregnancy.

Cats may not show signs for many years and clinic signs are usually attributed to secondary infections. Gingival infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, skin diseases, sinus infections, and neurological problems can all be symptoms of FIV.

Although a vaccination is available for FIV, it is not typically recommended because of it’s potential side effects. Testing for FIV is performed in conjunction with the FeLV testing at a kitten’s 1st vaccination exam and again with pre-operative bloodwork. Cats that spend time outdoors should also be tested regularly. Since most cats are infected by bite wounds, spaying or neutering can decrease the likelihood of roaming and fighting. Infected cats should be kept indoors only to decrease the risk of spreading the disease and to decrease exposure to infection.

Many cats infected with FIV live a long life when routine wellness care is provided and exposure to other infectious diseases is minimized.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis

FIP is a fatal disease caused by a mutation in the feline cornavirus. Feline coronavirus by itself is fairly prevalent in cats (30-40%) but most do not have the mutated virus that causes FIP. If a cat is not already carrying the feline coronavirus that causes FIP, it can be transmitted through the feces of another cat typically through grooming or eating the feces. The actual mutation is very rarely contagious and typically happens within an individual cat. Once the virus has mutated, it lives in the white blood cells and cannot be transmitted through the feces. This virus will typically present itself between 6 month to 2 years of age.

FIP is found in two different forms, wet and dry. The wet (effusive) form causes fluid to accumulate in the abdominal and chest cavities causing abdominal distention and breathing difficulty. The dry (non-effusive) form causes inflammatory lesions throughout the body including in the eyes, kidneys, liver, and nervous system. Depending on what area of the body is affected is where and how the symptoms will appear. Generalized symptoms for both forms of FIP include loss pf appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and fever.

Since FIP is not transmitted by other cats, research has shown that genetics can cause a predisposition for the mutation. Currently there is no test for FIP and it must be diagnosed by clinic symptoms. Cats with FIP have a poor prognosis even with treatment typically do not live long.

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease

FLUTD is a term that refers to any infection with a cat’s urinary bladder and/or urethra. Cats with behavioral abnormalities and that are obese tend to be more prone but this disease can affect any cat.

The most common causes of FLUTD are:

  • Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC) is defined as having no definitive cause for the infection. This is only diagnosed after ruling out all other causes.
  • Urethral Obstruction occurs when something (either a stone or urethral plug) becomes lodged in the urethra preventing the cat from urinating. This is an emergency because without being able to urinate the cat can become very ill and the bladder may potentially burst.
  • Urolithiasis is caused by stones that have formed in the bladder causing inflammation and possibly blockage.
  • Urethral Plugs are combinations of crystals (which form stones) and a protein/cellular material.
  • Urinary Tract Infections are bacterial infections inthe bladder or urethra.
  • Anatomical Defects can be caused by injury to the urethra creating a fibrous tissue to form. This can cause the urethra to become too narrow making it difficult to urinate.
  • Neoplasia refers to tumors of the urinary bladder, though fortunately, they are rare.

When a cat strains to urinate, urinates outside the litterbox, blood is present in the urine, or has a foul-smelling urine, a urine sample will be obtained for analysis. This can give us information on what may be causing the infection. We may also recommend bloodwork which can help us evaluate kidney health and check for other underlying diseases that may be causing infection.

Most FLUTD is successfully treated though some cats may be prone to re-occurring infections.