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Questions for Dr. Shawn - Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"My friend’s cat was just diagnosed with feline leukemia virus infection. What can you tell me about this disease? Can it be prevented or treated?"

Answer:
”Feline leukemia virus infection is a viral infection that is spread between cats by prolonged contact with saliva or nasal secretions. Infection most commonly occurs in outdoor male cats between 1-6 years of age due to their roaming, fighting, and breeding habits. Approximately 30% of cats that are exposed to the virus are persistently infected and remain infected, 30% are transiently infected with the virus and then cure themselves of the infection, and the remaining 40% of cats are latently infected and test negative on blood testing (the infection resides somewhere in the body such as the spleen, lymph nodes, or bone marrow but not blood; at any time, these cats can become ill from the virus.)

Similar to infection with the FIV (cat AIDS) virus, the most typical signs seen in infected FeLV positive cats is chronic disease, such as diarrhea, skin infections, and dental disease. Cancerous tumors may also occur. Any clinical signs (such as seizures) can occur as the signs that are seen depend upon the specific body tissue infected by the virus. Cats that persistently test positive on the blood tests for the virus will usually be infected for life. In general, about 80% of cats that remain positive on blood testing for the virus will die or be euthanized within 3 years from time of the initial diagnosis.

As with FIV infection, there is no cure for FeLV infection. Clinical signs are treated as needed; chronic infections are treated with antibiotics. Supportive care for cats with fever and lack of appetite (such as fluid therapy and force feeding) are used as needed, human alpha-interferon may be helpful in helping cats fight recurrences of the virus.

The natural approach also recognizes that cure is not likely, but focuses on improving the pet’s immune system in order to minimize effects of the virus and help the cat overcome it’s infection. Every doctor has his favorite approach. I use various herbs and homeopathics, plus antioxidants, to boost the cat’s immune system.

There are many different supplements that might be useful to help the cat infected with the leukemia virus, depending upon the clinical presentation. Some herbs I find useful include alfalfa, aloe vera, astragalus, burdock, goldenseal, boswellia, Echinacea and Transfer Factor. Medicinal mushroom extracts (reishi, shiitake, cordyceps, and maitake) are also recommended to help boost the cat’s immune system. Antioxidants are given to minimize cell damage from the virus. Glycoproteins (protein molecules bound to carbohydrate molecules) such as mannans showed promise in early studies. The glycoprotein product Acemannan may prolong the life of cats infected with leukemia virus when given to clinically ill cats. A protocol has been described in my book, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats.

Of course the best approach is to prevent the disease by limiting exposure of your cat to infected animals. Vaccination can be helpful but should only be given if exposure might occur. Most indoor cats will never need to be vaccinated for leukemia or FIV infection.”

 

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