What Aids does to human beings and Leishmaniasis does to dogs, FeLV does to cats. It breaks down the immune system, making the animal vulnerable to all kinds of diseases, infections and fungi.
FeLV stands for Feline Leukaemia Virus. It is a rather misleading term, because leukaemia (a blood cancer) is only one of the many diseases that strikes an affected cat. Very often related diseases such as pneumonia, chronic colds, anaemia and stomach problems develop before the cancer does.
Cats can be latent carriers, never developing full FeLV. Strong and healthy cats can fight back and survive, but of already weakened cats (including elderly and kittens), 90 per cent will develop persistent infections and die of related diseases or leukaemia itself.
FeLV is passed from an infected cat to another through saliva, licking, urine, faeces, sneezing or biting although the virus does not last long outside of the body, usually less than a few hours. It is passed from a mother cat to her kittens through her milk. If you have two or more cats it is best if they have their own food dishes and litter trays.
How do you know if your cat has the disease? There are so many related diseases that it is almost impossible to detect if a cat has FeLV. However if your cat has an enormous appetite and still loses weight, or however you tempt it has no appetite at all, develops diarrhoea or has chronic infections, take it to the vet and have it tested. The good news is that cats can be vaccinated against the disease from when they are nine weeks old. A yearly booster ensures that the chances of catching FeLV are very small indeed.
Another bit of good news: FeLV has no relation to the human form of leukaemia. Cats cannot transfer the disease to human beings.