Just like in humans, cats can develop very deadly medical conditions. One of the most common and fatal kinds of disease a cat can contract is feline leukemia virus disease, known as FeLV.
Leukemia, which is also found in humans, is a disease of the white blood cells. There are three major types of this leukemia. Today, we can protect our cats for FeLV with a vaccine, so it is important to have your pet up-to-date with medical care at all times.
With FeLV, there are three disease categories. The first are the leukemias, which are similar to what leukemia is like in humans. This is cancer of the white blood cells. However, not all FeLV diseases are cancer. Lymphosarcoma is the second category. Also cancerous, this disease begins in the lymphoid tissue around the lymph nodes. It affects the intestinal tract, kidneys, liver, spine, brain, blood, and bone marrow. The third category is the non-cancerous diseases that fall under the umbrella of FeLV and include immune suppression, anemia, and arthritis. Some of these medical conditions may also be fatal.
Cats are most commonly exposed to FeLV when they get into fights. FeLV is a virus that is spread mainly through saliva, and the wounds a cat receives from bites during a fight provide an entry point into the body. Cats can also get FeLV from sharing food or water bowls, grooming one another, and transmission from mother to kittens. If your cat contracts FeLV, there may be many possible outcomes. Some forms of the disease cannot be treated, however, so prevention is important. Remember, though, that a cat can live with the disease for many years and so your vet can help you choose the best course of action. Cats infected with FeLV are dangerous to other cats, and so they must live in confined single-cat homes, or you can choose euthanasia.
So far, there have been no studies that have found any correlation between this disease in cats and diseases in humans, so your family should be safe. That said, high-risk individuals should avoid contact with a sick animal. This includes newborns, senior citizens, AIDS patients, and chemotherapy patients. Because the virus cannot live for more than a few hours outside of the cat, you are safe in having cats return to your home as soon as two days after the infected cat is gone. Talk to your vet for more details.