Do Bengal Cats Get Leukemia?

  • January 16, 2023

If a prospective Bengal owner is looking into the Bengal breed for its inability to acquire Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), then they will be sorely displeased. The Bengal breed can contract FeLV as easily as any other breed. The concept behind this and the origin of this myth are rather scientific, so let’s take a look into it with these topics:

  • Where did this myth come from?
  • What is FeLV?
  • Why should a Bengal or any other cat get the vaccine?

Where did this myth come from?

This myth originally derives from the Asian Leopard Cat’s (ALC) inability to acquire FeLV. The thought comes from the concept of breeding behind the Bengal breed, that an ALC is bred through generations with domestic cats, therefore transferring the ancestor’s genetic trait. However, already at the ALC’s first filial generation, the inability to contract FeLV is left with the ALC.

Because Bengals are not immune to FeLV, they need to be given the vaccine from the disease just like any other breed of cat. Bengals, typically a breed that thrive in the outdoors, especially need to be vaccinated if they do go outdoors or spend time around other cats, whether they could become infected by those cats or they could pass the virus along to them.

The idea that Bengals are impervious to FeLV is simply a myth for the breed. Bengals do not have any immunity to FeLV or any other disease. They can become sick with everything any other breed of cat can.

It all began with Dr. Willard Centerwall and his research into ALC’s inability to acquire FeLV. Dr. Centerwall bred ALCs with domestic breeds in an effort to aid his studies in individuals with immune-compromising illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, leukemia, lymphoma, or people using radiation therapy or medications that suppress the immune system.

FeLV is a very dangerous virus that usually leads to the death of the afflicted. Working to research this virus isn’t just important to the health of feline pets, it’s also beneficial to research into Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

What is FeLV?

FeLV is known as a retrovirus, meaning that it rewrites a cell’s RNA in order to copy itself onto the DNA. Once it has done this, it cannot be reversed, fixed, or otherwise cured. FeLV is also the leading cause of infectious disease death in domestic cats.

Cats afflicted with the devastating disease can in rare cases live for several months or even years, but most only survive a few weeks after diagnosis. The variation depends mostly on the individual cat but can also be heavily influenced by how soon the disease is detected, the medical treatment used, and the age and health of the cat before diagnosis.

FeLV can be difficult for a veterinarian to diagnose because the symptoms are so varied and numerous. Many severe and chronic illnesses can share symptoms with FeLV, leading to a problematic diagnosis for the cat’s veterinarian. FeLV symptoms can include excessive thirst and urination, constipation or diarrhea, infertility, miscarriage, anemia, weight loss, difficulty breathing, jaundice, depression, bloody stools, change in appetite, and loss of energy.

To see a cat sick with a virus similar to FeLV, check out the video below and wait for the sneeze fit:

FeLV is contracted from long, frequent interaction between an infected cat and a non-infected cat. The virus is transferred through most of the natural secretions cats have, such as the moisture in their eyes, nose, and mouth. It is also possible for the virus to be transmitted through the urine and feces of an infected cat. But since the virus becomes inactive quickly after the secretion becomes warm and dry, a cat has to be around and interacting with an infected cat in order to contract FeLV.

This virus can only be transmitted from cat to cat, humans and canines are immune to FeLV, but each have their own version of the disease.

There is no cure for FeLV but research is being continued to find treatments and a cure for the virus. Medications are being tested and experimented with frequently and some steroids have been found to help destroy cancerous cells in an FeLV positive cat.

Because of how severe FeLV is for Bengal, they aren’t immune to the virus, and there is no cure, it is very important when looking for a Bengal that it is coming from an FeLV negative cattery.

FeLV negative cattery is a difficult term however because, as Bengals Illustrated explains, the only way a cattery can be considered FeLV negative is if all of the cats within it test negative for the virus in two sequential FeLV tests that are taen at lease three months apart.

The best measure to take against FeLV is to vaccinate any cat, including Bengals, on the premises.

Why should a Bengal or any other cat get the vaccine?

It may not be 100% effective, it is shown to be reasonably effective in preventing FeLV infection if a vaccinated cat is exposed to it. The vaccine causes the immune system to recognize and offer protection to cats. According to Bengals Illustrated, most kittens are vaccinated between nine and ten weeks and then again between 12 and 14 weeks old. Only a yearly booster is recommended in preventing most cats from acquiring the virus.

A good Bengal breeder, or any feline breeder, will keep their cats indoors and safe to prevent them from contracting FeLV. The breeder should also be testing their cats for FeLV as well to help prevent the spread of the virus to other cats in the cattery and especially the kitten conceived or born to cats in their cattery.

Since the myth that Bengals are immune to Feline Leukemia virus is debunked, the importance of the breed is then put on vaccinated for the health and safety of a Bengal cat and other cats that come into contact with it.

So, what do you think about a Bengal’s ability to get feline Leukemia?  Do you agree with what was said here?  Comment below to let us know!

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