Overview: Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) is a retrovirus that may induce depression of the immune system, anaemia and/or lymphoma. Over the past 25 years, the prevalence of FeLV infection has decreased considerably, thanks both to reliable tests for the identification of viraemic carriers and to effective vaccines.
Infection: Transmission between cats occurs mainly through friendly contacts, but also through biting. In large groups of non-vaccinated cats, around 30-40% will develop persistent viraemia, 30-40% show transient viraemia and 20-30% seroconvert. Young kittens are especially susceptible to FeLV infection.
Disease signs: The most common signs of persistent FeLV viraemia are immune suppression, anaemia and lymphoma. Less common signs are immune-mediated disease, chronic enteritis, reproductive disorders and peripheral neuropathies. Most persistently viraemic cats die within 2-3 years.
Diagnosis: In low-prevalence areas there may be a risk of false-positive results; a doubtful positive test result in a healthy cat should therefore be confirmed, preferably by PCR for provirus. Asymptomatic FeLV-positive cats should be retested.
Disease management: Supportive therapy and good nursing care are required. Secondary infections should be treated promptly. Cats infected with FeLV should remain indoors. Vaccination against common pathogens should be maintained. Inactivated vaccines are recommended. The virus does not survive for long outside the host.
Vaccination recommendations: All cats with an uncertain FeLV status should be tested prior to vaccination. All healthy cats at potential risk of exposure should be vaccinated against FeLV. Kittens should be vaccinated at 8-9 weeks of age, with a second vaccination at 12 weeks, followed by a booster 1 year later. The ABCD suggests that, in cats older than 3-4 years of age, a booster every 2-3 years suffices, in view of the significantly lower susceptibility of older cats.