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Feline Leukemia

Holistic veterinarians are now fighting
FeLV with "new" weapons


For an owner whose cat has tested positive for the presence of the feline leukemia virus (FeLV), there may seem to be little hope. But thanks to holistic medicine, an FeLV-positive cat may have a better chance of survival than in the past.

Feline leukemia is a disease caused by a virus in the "me family of viruses as feline immunodeficiency virus. The FeLV virus can lead to anemia, tumors, kidney disease, and reproductive disorders including infertility. The symptoms may include fever, weight loss, anemia, poor diet, vomiting or diarrhea, and pleurisy. It is not considered treatable by conventional methods, but research is showing that not all cats will die from the disease, and that new treatments may bring hope to FeLV-positive cats and their owners.

What FeLV?

According to Dr. Neils C. Pedersen of the University of California at Davis, "It is an infection that is endemic among free roaming cats, with one to 2 percent, plus or minus, of the cats carrying the virus and shedding it in their saliva, feces and urine." Although FeLV isn't serious in nature, Dr. Pedersen says, it can be devastating for cats in an indoor environment. Indoors, the infection 0 is 30 times worse than outdoors, with about one-third to one-half of the cats infected for life, the rest will dune it off. Of the exposed cars, about half will die each year.

As a result, the presence of one FeLV-positive cat in the household is cause for concern. Most conventional vets recommend vaccinating cats—especially if they go outdoors--against FeLV. However, three holistic vets we spoke to do not generally suggest the vaccine to their clients. Dr. Susan Wynn, executive director of the Georgia Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, says that the vaccine's effectiveness is "far from clear." She says, "It may work kind of well," but wonders if the apparent decline in FeLV cases that veterinarians have seen is due to the vac-cine or to the increased isolation of infected cats.

Of cats that become infected, Dr. Wynn says, about a third will get ova it, a third will have negative signs of the virus in their blood, ant a third will test persistently positive.

Testing for the virus

Two main tests are used to detect FeLV: the ELISA test, which can be done at the vet's office, and the IFA (immunoflouroassay) or Hardy test The ELISA test detects the virus in the blood; the IFA, within white blood cells. Notes Dr. Debbie Mallu, a holistic veterinarian in Sedona, Arizona, the ELISA test shows an early infection. "The animal may ward it off," she says.

Conventional treatments, including chemotherapy, generally relieve symptoms and may prolong life. However, there are no guarantees. Dr. Mallu encourages ha clients not to view an FeLV positive as a death sentence. She urges them to "be more positive. Think, 'Yes, my cat is sick, but what can we do to make him better?'"

A good diet comes first

"Nutrition is such a big factor in resistance," says Dr. Carolyn Blakey, who practices in Richmond, Indiana. She suggests owners put their cats on a raw-meat diet, including liver. She also suggests vegetables, noting that owners can offer their cats different ones to determine which ones they'll eat; cats have been known to enjoy cucumbers and Brussels sprouts! Veggies can be cooked or served raw, or even pureed. However, Dr. Blakey does not encourage owners to give their cats baby food unless it's organiC.

Like Blakey, Dr. Mallu recommends a raw-meat, homemade diet and supplemental vitamins, enzymes, and fatty acids, as does Dr. Wynn. Wynn also provides her clients with immune-system stimulants, such as Rachie mushroom.

The use of herbs

Other immune-system stimulants include herbs, both western and Chinese. Dr. Mallu explains that the use of Chinese herbs helps build Chi--the energy that flows through the body (it's most familiar to Western persons as being the focus of acupuncture, which stimulates and corrects the flow of chi by inserting fine needles at points along the chi's flow paths, the meridians). She uses the Chinese herb Dong Qui in cats with FeLV. For cats suf- from anemia due to an FeLV infection, she uses the high-iron herb Yellow Dot to help improve the blood.

However, note that herbs, if given by someone not familiar with their effects, can do more harm than good; it's important to work with a holistic vet who is trained in administering them. (See related story on herbs on page 7.)

Although Dr. Wynn says she "hasn't been too excited" by her experiences with antiviral herbs, she notes that another antiviral element can be helpful to FeLV-cats: interferon.

Interferon is a family of proteins that have been used to treat a variety of human diseases, including liver disease, multiple sclerosis, and HIV. Besides being antiviral, interferon has the added bonus of being an immune stimulant, Dr. Wynn notes.

Other immune system stimulants being tried with some success include lmmunoRegulin, baypamun, and acemannan, a derivative of the aloe plant. Be sure to work with your vet if you want to investigate these treatments because they cannot always be used; for example, ImmunoRegulin should not be used if a cat has developed a Iymphosarcoma. Baypamun, a homeopathic remedy, is designed to cure infections in kittens; it is not necessarily meant by its manufacturer to be an FeLV treatment. Dr. Wynn notes that she has used acemannan, but finds that herbs work just as well and have the additional benefit of providing nutrients.

Homeopathy can help

Dr. Blakey has also found that homeopathy remedies can sometimes be helpful. Homeopathy is based on the concept of "like cures like." A homeopathic remedy is a minuscule amount of a plant, mineral, or animal-derived substance that is given to cure symptoms. For example, arsenic, a poison, can cause serious gastro-intestinal problems; however, the homeopathy remedy derived from arsenic may actually cure the ailment. Veterinary _ consult with the owners and take a histo-ry of the animal in question and then, based on the answers, select a remedy. Because the remedy chosen is based on the particular animal's needs and preferences--for example, if the cat prefers to be warm or cool--it's not possible to name one or two homeopathic remedies for FeLV.

Note that herbs, if given by someone not familiar with their effects, can do more harm than good; it's important to work with a holistic vet who is trained in administering them.

To find a homeopathic vet, you can check Dr. Wynn's website, AltVetMed ( It includes a list of members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association, and includes each vet's specialties and contact information.

No matter which form of treatment you and your veterinarian choose to use, isolating the infected cat is still a good idea. Other cats in the household should be tested too, or immunized if feasible. Not only will isolating FeLV-positive cats from FeLV negative cats protect the ones that test negative, it will also protect the cat that has tested positive from possibly catching illnesses from its companions.

Dr. Blakey notes that human clients tend to "react more negatively than necessary," when the diagnosis is FeLV Some cats will live long and relatively healthy lives, although infected with the virus. FeLV-positive doesn't have to be a death sentence. "Cats have a good chance of bouncing back," says Dr. Wynn.

Fran Hodgkins is a freelance writer who lives in Massachusetts with her husband, daughter and four cats. She is a member of the Cat Writers 'Association.

Allopathic Options for Feline Leukemia

Although mere is no hard and fast cure for FeLV, certain other traditional drug therapies may enable the cat to remain fairly healthy for up to several months. The Whole Cat Journal, while aiming for a holistic approach in treatment, believes that a cat owner should exhaust every possibility in the attempt to save the life of a cat, or ease its suffering.

Chemotherapeutic drugs may produce a temporary remission, depending on me general health of the cat and its type of leukemia. Some of these are in the experimental stage and their efficacy is qualified.

Phosphonoformate (PFA) appears to have the potential to suppress FeLV and is not poisonous at the cellular level.

Suramin, used for treating prostate and other cancers, may also be effective in treating the disease.

Phosphonylmethoxyethyladenine (PMEA) has harsh side effects, so it can't be used on a long-term basis. It has been used for treating the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and may work against other viruses such as FeLV.

Staphylococcus Aureus-Protein A (Staphylococcus A) has been used experimentally against FeLV and associated tumors; it has been shown to help interferon therapy work.

DEC (Diethylcarbamazine) has been shown to decrease, but not eliminate the virus, particularly In young cats. Its use, however, does not appear to be widely known.

Prednisolone may work against the Iymphosarcoma tumors caused by the disease. In addition, steroids can inhibit cells that are normally responsible for destroying senescent (aging) red blood cells, which can combat anemia and destruction of red blood cells.

Although the long-term use of steroids compromises a cat's immunity, cats do have a relatively high tolerance for them. Therefore a high quality diet and other immune-building strategies should be followed.

Taken from "The Whole Cat Journal- February 1999"