Leukemia in cats is a medical condition that leads to lower or higher than normal white blood cell (WBC) count. A cat with this disease may suffer from infections and tumors. The development of malignant tumors and immune system failure are two potentially fatal conditions caused by this disease.
WBCs are produced in several areas of the feline body, including the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, tonsils, and bone marrow. They are responsible for attacking infections that invade the lungs, digestive system, and skin. They fail to react normally to these invasions in a cat with leukemia.
In most cases, the virus that causes this disease infects kittens younger than four months old. Some are able to fight the infection and do not become ill. Others never clear the infection but symptoms do not show up for many years.
The disease is contagious and can be transmitted from a mother to its babies through milk or saliva. Additional ways to contract the condition are through the placenta before birth and through direct contact with an infected cat. Most all older cats that are healthy are immune to the virus. Exceptions include mature felines with compromised immune systems and those that receive infected blood in a transfusion.
Symptoms of this disease include vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. An infected cat will be listless and lack energy. The bone marrow fails to produce enough red blood cells causing the animal to be anemic and the gums to turn pale. The heart rate increases because the circulatory system fails to transport oxygen normally.
Lymphoma is a type of leukemia characterized by the development of tumors. Tumors grow when the WBCs create masses in the spleen, chest, kidneys, or intestines. Symptoms vary according to where the tumors develop and which systems are affected.
Sometimes the blood contains high levels of lymphoblasts, which are immature WBCs. In a cat with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the cells develop quickly. When they develop slowly, the cat has chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Treatment of the latter condition with medication may cause the disease to go into remission.
Veterinarians may have a difficult time diagnosing the disease because test results can be a challenge to interpret and subsequent testing often yields different results. Lab technicians can test saliva, tears, or blood for specific proteins. If proteins are present, the animal is retested after three months to see if the proteins are still present or if the disease cleared the body without causing illness. The blood test is more complicated than the saliva test but it also provides more accurate results.
When the disease is fatal, the animal often dies from a secondary infection because the body's immune system does not function properly. No treatment currently exists for the primary disease, so veterinarians will provide supportive care and treatment for secondary conditions. Tetracycline antibiotics are used to effectively treat pets with infections. Leukemia in cats can be fatal in the most severe cases but many animals will live several years after the diagnosis. There are many herbal and natural remedies that may help your pets dealing with the symptoms of the desease.
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