Ask a vet 24/7: Spreading Feline Leukemia

Dr. Laci Schaible

Have you ever gotten home after a vet visit and realized you forget to ask them something important about the discharge instructions or home care? Of course, this scenario typically happens after the vet hospital is closed and lines of communication are severed.

Below are real questions asked of VetLIVE veterinarians! Hopefully, the answers can help you in an emergency.

Spreading Feline Leukemia

Question: “My friend has 6 cats. One of them has feline leukemia. He is moving to another city and asked me to borrow my cat's transport cages (I have four cats). Is it safe for my cats to use these transport cages later? How should I sterilize them when returned? Should I put the cages in quarantine, away from the cats, after he returns them? Should I lend them at all? One carrier is wood and the rest are standard plastic or rubber material. I don’t know very much about feline leukemia.”

Answer:

I have good news for you. Feline leukemia virus is not very transmissible and is most often spread by saliva (such as by cats grooming one another) but no chances taken are better than a small chance taken. The virus is shed in many bodily fluids, including saliva, nasal discharge, urine, feces, and blood. In addition to grooming, it is often spread through sharing litter boxes, as well as food and water bowls. It can be passed in-utero or through a nursing mother’s milk, but these obviously don’t apply to your situation.

This will not be a big burden on you as the virus is VERY easily killed. Feline leukemia virus does not live for very long in the environment, so a cat most often must have contact with an infected cat for the disease to spread. By not very long, I mean minutes. It is readily destroyed by most disinfectants; any household detergent will work, including regular soap. It will die on its own in the environment but I personally would feel much better disinfecting the cages. Because it is such an easily killed virus, the wood carrier should not be a problem either.

I would still recommend bleaching the carriers just because you can't possibly know that the other cats are otherwise completely pathogen free, as no such living creature exists. You can use a bleach to water ratio of 1:32 (one part bleach with 32 parts water). Please do make sure to rinse the carriers very well so that no bleach remains on them afterwards. It can be very bothersome to cats' eyes. Some cats also, strangely enough, like the taste of bleach so you don't want them licking the cages and ingesting it. I haven't seen this personally, but it has been documented to rarely happen, so I felt it was worth mentioning. You don't have to disinfect with the bleach for the purposes of destroying the leukemia virus, but in case you want to give them a good general disinfecting against other germs the cats may carry, this is an appropriate dilution to use.

Feline leukemia virus is a transmittable retrovirus that can severely inhibit a cat’s immune system. It is very commonly diagnosed in cats even though the virus doesn’t always manifest symptoms right away. Any new cat entering a household and all sick cats should be tested for this virus. Good luck!

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