Leukemia in Cats

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: May 6, 2018
Leukemia in Cats

See files for Cats

Feline leukemia is a disease caused by feline leukemia virus (FeLV), which suppresses the animal's immune system. This virus affects the white blood cells of the cat's immune system, meaning that the animal has fewer defenses and has more risk of infection and other complications.

This disease is found in cats all over the world, and it can be lethal for the animal. It cannot be transmitted to humans. Keep reading this AnimalWised article to learn all about leukemia in cats, including its symptoms and treatment.

You may also be interested in: Interesting Facts About Hedgehogs

How is feline leukemia transmitted?

This virus is transmitted between cats through body fluids (saliva, blood, feces, urine, nasal secretions, etc) or during pregnancy and lactation. It is common in cats living outside in the street or living in groups or colonies.

When the feline leukemia virus comes into contact with the animal's immune system, there are three outcomes:

  • The cat is immune since it has created antibodies that can cope with the virus. It may have symptoms for a few weeks but they will then disappear.
  • The virus comes into contact with blood or saliva, damaging the immune system and causing leukemia. The animal is more likely to spread other diseases. They do not live beyond 2 or 3 years.
  • The virus disappears from the blood and saliva but remains dormant in the bone marrow. Although the virus can reactivate, it most likely will not affect your cat.
Leukemia in Cats - How is feline leukemia transmitted?


The symptoms of feline leukemia are varied and depend on the overall state of the animal's health. These are some of the most common:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Skin lesions
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swollen lymph nodes
Leukemia in Cats - Symptoms

How is feline leukemia diagnosed?

Besides taking into account the symptoms, you can determine if your cat is actually suffering from leukemia with the following tests, which must always be performed by a veterinary:

  • ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay): It's a typical test carried out at veterinary clinics. A blood sample is collected from the cat, from which it is detected whether there is the presence of antigens, or early stages of infection. After several weeks, a positive result may be confirmed, since it is not known if the infection is temporary or permanent.
  • PCR (Polymerase chain reaction): It detects virus DNA in affected cells either in blood samples or in other tissues. Although it can detect latent infections, it is not as available as ELISA.
  • IFA (immunofluorescent assay): It is not useful for detection in the early stages but can confirm a positive ELISA result. It detects the presence of antigens in infected cells.
Leukemia in Cats - How is feline leukemia diagnosed?

What is the treatment for feline leukemia?

Currently there is no specific treatment to cure this disease. The goal is to give your cat the best quality of life possible.

Treatment can help your cat live a few months or even years, and will be based primarily on:

  • Protection against infections (antiviral and immuno-regulatory).
  • Avoiding stress and giving it peace.
  • A healthy and balanced diet.
  • Specific treatments for other complications.
Leukemia in Cats - What is the treatment for feline leukemia?

How to prevent the feline leukemia virus

These are the main measures to consider in order to prevent feline leukemia:

  • The main preventive measure is to vaccinate your pet to avoid this disease from occurring. Normally, a vaccination should be scheduled at the veterinary when the cat is 8 or 9 weeks old. Vaccinations usually have no effect on already infected animals. It is therefore important, before adopting a kitten, to ensure that it doesn't have the disease.
  • Cats positive for the disease should be kept away from negative cats to avoid infection, even if they have had the vaccine. It is not advisable for them to live together.
  • Disinfect the places where the cat sleeps, and the water and food bowls to get rid of the virus as far as possible.
Leukemia in Cats - How to prevent the feline leukemia virus

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Leukemia in Cats, we recommend you visit our Viral diseases category.

Write a comment about Leukemia in Cats

Add an image
Click to attach a photo related to your comment
What did you think of this article?

Leukemia in Cats
1 of 6
Leukemia in Cats

Back to top