Is Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) contagious? Can cats and people contract FeLV?

You may have heard that FeLV (feline leukemia virus) is among the top most fatal diseases to ever spread amongst cats.

Just as lethal as heartworms and other similar parasitic diseases, the feline leukemia virus can affect kitties of all breeds, regardless of which region on Earth they’re inhabiting. Not only is it globally widespread, but it actually infects around 2% of the overall feline population on our planet.

The feline leukemia virus is not an actual disease on its own. On the contrary – it’s a virus that infects a cat’s organism and leads to numerous health complications by attacking the kitty’s immune system and changing its genes.

What does the feline leukemia virus do and is it contagious?

As Earnest Ward, DVM, explains in further detail, the FeLV basically alters a cat’s genetic code. By changing the code it leaves the furball’s organism vulnerable to a variety of possible diseases. Although the virus itself doesn’t cause telltale signs, it can result in severe health issues, such as:

  • Anemia
  • Lymphoma and other tumors
  • Internal and external infections

By weakening the kitty’s immune system the FeLV renders its organism incapable of defense against secondary infections of all kinds. As such, it inevitably results in the worst – death.

Veterinarians from all over the world have to deal with FeLV because the feline leukemia virus is indeed contagious. The virus itself cannot survive without clinging to a living organism, but once it infects a cat, it damages the overall health of said furball over the course of several weeks to a few years.

Can feline leukemia virus be transmitted to humans?

Fortunately, FeLV is one of those viruses that can’t be transmitted to humans. It won’t affect you or any human being that comes into contact with a diseased cat.

Even cat bites and scratch marks won’t transmit the feline leukemia virus to a person. Since the virus is species-specific, everyone in your household is immune to it. Sadly, I can’t say the same about cats in general – neither house cats, nor feral ones.

Can felike leukemia virus be transmitted to cats and other animals?

The good news is that as a species-specific virus, FeLV can’t affect dogs and other pets because they don’t have the same genetic structure as the one of a cat.

Unfortunately, feline leukemia virus is extremely contagious for cats of all breeds and ages.

Any kitty can contract the virus if it has contact with an infected cat. Some kitties will be able to fight against it over a short period of time, whereas others will succumb to the virus instantly. It all depends on the cat’s overall health, immune system strength, its surroundings and lifestyle. Cats can contract FeLV from:

  • Saliva
  • Mating
  • Nasal discharge
  • Urine and feces
  • Alogrooming
  • Congenitally from birth

Sharing the same litter box, playground, cat bed, food bowls and other objects with an infected cat are the most common ways of transmitting the virus. And since it can be exchanged through saliva and nasal discharge, cats can also contract FeLV by grooming each other.

A pregnant female cat with FeLV can transmit the virus to her kittens. However, one of the virus’ outcomes is abortion. As such, there’s a bigger chance for the female to not give birth at all or to bear still-born kittens.

Is there a way to prevent your cat from contracting FeLV?

There are several ways to cope with the threat of the feline leukemia virus. Due to the fact that FeLV is contagious, keeping your pet strictly indoors is one of the best preventative methods. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fully guarantee that at some point your furball won’t come into contact with an infected cat.

  • Get a FeLV vaccine as soon as you welcome a new kitty into your home.
  • Test any adopted cats, even if they come from reputable breeders.
  • Limit access to outdoor adventures, even when they’re supervised.

Diagnosing FeLV is tricky because the virus itself is not a disease. By weakening your cat’s immune system the virus will eventually lead to other secondary infections and a number of diseases, which can significantly shorten the feline lifespan.

Some cats are able to fight off the virus for a while, depending on how strong their organisms are. In such cases, it’s possible for a kitty to not show any signs of health complications over long periods of time. Living with FeLV is manageable since there are treatment plans for numerous diseases derived from the virus.

Unfortunately, just as it is with the feline herpesvirus, completely getting rid of the FeLV is impossible.

Once the cat has contracted it, the virus will remain in its body and will pose fatal danger to other cats that come into contact with the infected furball. Even if you’re keeping your fluffy friend strictly indoors, I highly recommend getting your pet tested and asking your vet for a vaccine beforehand instead of relying on chances.

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Emily Parker
 

Emily Parker is the Content Manager at Catological. She's passionate about helping cat parents love their cats better by providing the best information and recommendations about everything you'll need to know about your cat, from kitten to senior years. She believes natural, biologically-appropriate products are best...why wouldn't you provide the best for a member of your family?!

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