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Feline Leukemia Virus: Contagious and Deadly

The feline leukemia virus is threatening the lives of our nation's cats. If your home is one of the 24 million cat owning households in the country, Dr. Janet Roshar of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association explains that knowledge of the contagious leukemia virus is both pertinent and vital to your pet's health.

Feline leukemia virus is transmitted between cats through saliva, urine, respiratory secretions, and through the blood or milk of pregnant or nursing queens. It has not, however, been found to be contagious to humans.

In outdoor and free-roaming cats virus infection might reach as high as 30%. Leukemia is just one manifestation of disease which can result. Once the virus replicates inside your cat's blood cells, it diminishes your pet's resistance to other illnesses. virus or bacterial infections which cause mild symptoms in an uninfected cat become chronic, recurrent, and sometimes life-threatening in a leukemia virus infected cat. Respiratory infections, abortion, infertility problems, chronic gum infections, or fatalities due to bone marrow diseases, feline infectious peritonitis, or tumor-forming cancers are just some of the illnesses which can plague your cat once infected with the immuno-suppressive virus.

After 10 years of research, a new vaccine has been introduced which offers up to 80% protection against this devastating virus. Over 1/2 million cats have received immunization since its release in January.

Vaccination is highly recommended for your pet cat, except in a few instances:

*A cat which already harbors the virus will not be protected by the vaccine. A simple blood test, performed by your veterinarian, will detect virus particles in your cat's bloodstream or within blood cells. A positive test does not doom your cat to the development of leukemia or a leukemia-related disease. once exposed, some cats are able to develop immunity against the virus and resist its fate.

Serial tests should be performed in positive-tested cats to determine if persistent infection is taking place. About 30% of repeatedly positive cats become ill with a feline leukemia virus related disease within two years, and may die within three years.

*Indoor cats and one-cat households portray a diminished risk of contacting the virus. Introducing a new cat or kitten into the home quickly increases the odds however. Any newcomer should be blood-tested for presence of the virus before close contact with other cats is allowed.

*Kittens under 9 weeks of age are not yet able to respond to vaccination. Kittens, though, may be blood-tested and then vaccinated as soon as they reach 9 weeks of age.

*Sick or convalescing animals should not be immunized until recovered. The killed virus vaccine does not suppress your pet's immune system, but any stress should be avoided in a pet which is not feeling well.

Healthy, negative-tested cats can develop protection against the leukemia virus and its associated complex of diseases by receiving an initial series of three vaccinations followed by annual boosters.

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Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association
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