Feline leukemia. Is it as bad as it sounds? Find out more here.

feline leukemia

What is feline leukemia?

Feline leukemia is a condition caused by a virus (FeLV) that is passed from one cat to another through bodily fluids, especially saliva.  It suppresses the immune system so a variety of conditions show up. It’s fairly common, especially among outside or feral cats. They estimate that around 3% of all cats have it.

How do you know if your cat has this disease?

The best way to tell is to watch your cat for anything unusual. Your cat might have any one or a combination of these problems:

– weight loss

– enlarged lymph nodes

– unhealthy coat

– respiratory problems

– infections of the skin, bladder or respiratory system

– mouth ulcers

– fever

– diarrhea

– weakness or uncoordinated movement

– cancers like lymphoma or fibrosarcoma

If you notice something off, you should take your cat to the vet.  They can do blood tests to diagnose FeLV.

Unfortunately, even if your cat is not showing symptoms, it could be a carrier of FeLV and give it other cats, so having blood tests done on a cat that’s new to your household can help identify the disease so you can manage it.

Will my cat get feline leukemia?

You can vaccinate your cat against it if it doesn’t already have the disease.  Your other option to help prevent this disease is to keep your cat strictly indoors and isolated from other cats that might have it.

What do I do if my cat has FeLV?

Feline leukemia can’t be cured.  They are working on medications that might slow it down, much like antivirals for AIDS in humans, but they aren’t generally being used right now.  Currently, the average life span for a cat after diagnosis is about 3 years. 

The main thing a that can be done for your cat if they have FeLV is to manage symptoms as they come up.  Observation and support can help your cat live a much longer, more comfortable life.  If they have the disease, you’ll have to do what you can to prevent the spread to other cats, either in your household or outside of it.


Feline leukemia is definitely something you don’t want your cat to get.  But if they do, it doesn’t automatically mean that your cat is going to die right away.  With good vet care and your vigilance, your cat can continue to have a good life for many years.

Catfriendly.com has a great article about FeLV.

For more about cats, read FLUTD in cats, about urinary tract problems, Training a cat or Do you know? What do you feed a cat?, for nutrition advice.

Do you have a cat with feline leukemia? Tell me about it below.

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