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Feline Leukemia (FeLV) - One Cat's Experience

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  Corneal Ulcers

Max's eyes again As Maxwell continued to have recurring problems with his eyes, our vet referred us to a veterinary ophthalmologist in the fall of 1998. There continues to be no more conclusive diagnosis than that it must be related to the Feline Leukemia. Since approximately spring 1999), Maxwell began experiencing recurring corneal ulcers, some of which were indolent ulcers (or those with a healing defect). (Check our Eye Disorders Links for more information on corneal ulcers and many other feline eye conditions.) He has had to have several of the ulcers debrided but some have healed without that intervention. Since the latter part of 2002, however, Maxwell has had very few ulcers. They are the exception now, rather than the norm.

Some things we've learned include the fact that you do not give steroids in any form when there are eye ulcers, as they can make the ulcer worse. Although there seems to be some debate about the issue, our veterinary ophthalmologist strongly encouraged that atropine not be used in the presence of corneal ulcers. Atropine is often used to help relieve pain in the eye due to swelling. It dilates the pupil and helps relieve pressure, but it can be harmful except in certain circumstances when it is, indeed, indicated (such as uveitis). We have also learned that an ulcer can appear within a very few hours! A couple years ago, I took Maxwell to see the ophthalmologist on one evening and his eyes were absolutely perfect and were also fine the following morning, but had huge ulcers covering half the surface of the eye by the time I returned home from work that afternoon.


  Lower Eyelid Entropion

After the Surgery In the summer of 1999 (around July, I believe), during one of Maxwell's eye problem outbreaks, one of his eyelids turned inward (lower eyelid entropion) allowing the furs to further irritate his eye (and worsen the ulcer developing) and this had to be surgically corrected. The next picture shows how he looked immediately after the surgery, but within a couple of months, the fur had grown back fully and you would never know he'd had surgery.


  Constricted Pupils

Since around spring 2000 or so, Maxwell's pupils have constricted to just a bit larger than the smallest they could get and they remain in that state. As you may have noticed earlier in his history, Maxwell's pupils dilated. This no longer happens. The only pupil size change I see is during an extremely difficult corneal ulcer, at which time the pupil spasms. This may not be the appropriate technical term but it's the best description I have to describe the activity. It's very unusual to watch, with the pupil becoming large (about 50-60% dilated) then small (pinpoint, almost) then large then small and so forth very quickly. The treatment hasn't really changed, although with Maxwell's last ulcer, we had to use a different antibiotic. But, essentially, the disease is the same; it's only the manifestations that change a bit over time. I remain amazed that he seems able to see very well, but I have noticed absolutely no loss in vision to this point. For now, I continue to watch him like a hawk and begin pouring drops and ointments in his eyes the very second I suspect he may be developing a problem, but it remains a continuing battle. I must say Maxwell bears up under all this much better than I ever would. He is often in excrutiating pain with these outbreaks, but he never turns mean or nasty. He remains the absolutely sweet and loving cat that he has always been from the beginning.


  A Final Note

Although this pretty much is Maxwell's story to this point, I do want to mention one other thing. You may notice, as you cruise around our site, that Maxwell lives with other cats and is not separated from them. Some of you may disagree with that decision. Believe me, I did not make that decision lightly, and I do religiously vaccinate the other cats against Feline Leukemia. (I also confined Duncan for three months when he first arrived in this house until he was old enough for the vaccinations and enough time had elapsed for them to be fully effective.) Yes, I realize the vaccine is not 100% effective; however, those cats would not have had homes in the "In" otherwise, and their risks of death and disease living outdoors is far greater than the risk I'm exposing them to with Maxwell. This is a decision each person with a FeLV+ cat in a multi-cat household must make for himself or herself, after weighing all the risks and benefits. For Maxwell, being separated from the other cats would be the same as a death sentence. He's the peacemaker of the bunch, the one every cat loves, and he knows no enemy except this awful disease.

As of August 2003, Maxwell is doing very well, with almost no occurrences of ulcers at all. He remains on the skinny side, but that seems to just be his metabolism. One would never know there was ever a thing wrong with him! (Well, except for his eyes - they still do not react to light but he continues to be able to see.) I hope any future updates are as positive as this one but those of us with FeLV+ cats know that each day we have with our kitties is a gift, for their condition may change from day to day.


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