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Feline Leukemia Virus

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Feline Leukemia Virus

Feline Leukaemia Virus

Feline leukemia virus is a common, serious and infectious disease in cats. It kills 85% of infected cats and can cause other complications such as anemia and lymphoma.  Some cats can shake off the virus on their own, but effective vaccination has helped to reduce the prevalence of the disease amongst cat populations. To care for your cat, it helps to recognize the symptoms of the disease so you can take speedy action.

Catching Feline leukemia

Your cat can catch feline leukemia from another infected cat as it is very contagious. It spreads through direct contact and is passed on through saliva, urine, feces and the milk of infected cats. It could be spread through a bite wound, by grooming or through the sharing of food or litter trays. A nursing mother can pass the infection on to her kittens.

The good news is that the virus cannot survive outside of the cat’s body for very long but if your cat meets other cats then the chances of infection increase. Also, be aware, a cat in the early stages of infection may look healthy but can be carrying the virus.

Indoor cats that have lived healthily with each other should be at lower risk than cats that mix with outdoor cats from another household. If you are bringing a new cat into a closed group its best to keep the new cat separate from the group and under observation before introducing them to each other. Get the new cat tested for the virus to be safe.

As a cat gets older and picks up infections, resistance seems to increase in older cats. It is the kittens and younger cats that are more susceptible to picking up the disease. Feline leukemia affects a cat’s blood and their immune system becomes suppressed. This also makes it harder for the cat to fight off other infections, bacteria, and viruses.


Know the symptoms of the feline leukemia virus and you will be able to consult the vet earlier if you feel your cat is not well. Visible symptoms can range from a yellowing of the mouth and the whites of the eyes, difficulty breathing, weight loss, a loss of appetite, recurring illness, seizures, and lethargy. You may also notice your cat has a fever or persistent diarrhea and maybe their coat condition is not what it used to be.

Remember that in the early stages of infection a cat may show no visible signs of the disease. Health usually deteriorates over time, sometimes gradually, sometimes rapidly. Long term complications can develop and secondary problems can complicate your cat’s health. It’s best to be vigilant and discuss your cat’s health with your vet.


A blood test might detect the virus although sometimes a bone marrow sample may be needed to confirm the disease. Because it is a virus, your cat may clear the infection on its own. It is possible for your cat to test positive and then later test negative because the cat has fought off the infection.  


Feline leukemia is a virus and there is no treatment available that combats the virus. Medication can help with secondary symptoms through the use of steroids, antiviral drugs, and chemotherapy. Blood transfusions are a common way to try and treat feline leukemia. Antiviral drugs reduce the amount of virus present and can make it easier for the cat to fight off the virus on its own.


Prevention is better than cure they say, and the only way to prevent your cat from picking up feline leukemia is to ensure it doesn’t meet up with the infection in the first place.

If you are bringing a new cat into a household that already has cats then it’s best to get the new cat tested before they all come into contact. Ensure that you wash bowls and litter trays to keep them clean and infection free.


There is a vaccination available that offers some protection against feline leukemia but that doesn’t mean for sure that your cat won’t pick the virus up. The only way to be sure of preventing your cat from picking up the virus is to stop your cat from being exposed to the virus in the first place.

If you are bringing a kitten home it is best to get them vaccinated against the feline leukemia virus around eight weeks old. Follow this up three or four weeks later with a booster vaccination and from then on yearly. This is especially important if your kitten will be going outside and mixing with other cats. Cats that will remain indoors may not need the vaccination, however, it’s best to consult your vet.

The long-term outlook for a cat diagnosed with feline leukemia

If your cat is diagnosed with feline leukemia then you will need to monitor your cat’s health over the long-term. Your cat may live a long life if it clears the virus itself and may live a normal life for long periods of time. Life expectancy is usually limited to two to three years from diagnosis, however.

You should keep a close check upon your cat’s weight, their digestive functioning, their eyes, mouth, coat and behavior. Keep a note of symptoms to share at a consultation with your vet.

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