RAYMOND — There is a silent epidemic going on in SW Washington, and it has made its way to our community.
Feline leukemia has been found in cats and kittens in Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties in alarming numbers. If you have a cat or kitten, the Harbor Association of Volunteers for Animals (HAVA) advises you to take him/her to your veterinarian for a blood test and vaccination.
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a retrovirus that infects cats. It cannot be transferred to humans or dogs. Cats get the disease from other cats, mainly through fighting or sexual contact. Sharing food or water bowls and beds has a low risk of transmission, although it is not advised.
Kittens can be born with the virus — HAVA always tests the mothers of all kittens in our system to ensure that they do not have the virus. If the mama has feline leukemia, there is sadly, a good chance that her kittens are infected as well. If you have a kitten or kittens and you don’t know if it has been tested for feline leukemia, it is very important that you take it to your veterinarian.
Kittens vaccinated against this disease have a much better chance of developing antibodies to the virus as adults.
This disease is difficult to diagnose and the signs and symptoms of infection are varied. Most cats actually come into contact with the virus and are strong enough to develop antibodies to it. Others may become infected but show no signs of the disease. These cats can become carriers and infect other cats.
Symptoms can include loss of appetite, an unhealthy coat, skin infections or sores, recurring bladder or respiratory infections, problems with teeth or gums, fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea and litter box avoidance.
If your cat is diagnosed with feline leukemia, unfortunately there is no cure.
Providing a stress free environment as possible will help keep the disease from progressing too quickly.
Keeping your cat indoors so they won’t infect other cats is also very important.
Sadly, the only way you can be sure to keep your cat from coming into contact with the disease is to keep him/her inside. For indoor/outdoor kitties, this would be very hard on them (and you!).
Since many cats can successfully fight off this disease, especially if they are vaccinated, HAVA suggests you make sure your vaccinations are up to date. It is your responsibility to make sure your cat is not infected and possibly infecting other cats.
HAVA is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization whose mission is to provide for the welfare of animals in Pacific and Grays Harbor Counties. For more info visit: www.hava-heart.org