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What is Feline Leukemia? What are the Signs and is There Treatment?

Updated on January 26, 2009

Feline Leukemia Virus

One of the more popular killers of pet cats is Feline Leukemia. It is actually the second most common killer, right next to car accidents. It is a very common virus that pet cats can and do carry. The statistics show that about one in every ten cats is a carrier of the Feline Leukemia Virus, and yet not very many cat owners know much about the illness.

Many people consider Feline Leukemia as the AIDS of the cat world, which in a way it is. I mean, when you bring in that cute kitten that you found at work, you may not realize that when the new kitten shares the food bowl or litter box with your current cats, he may be spreading Feline Leukemia.

With Feline Leukemia there are a few different things that can actually happen. They include:

  • The cat's immune system may kill the virus on its own.
  • The Feline Leukemia Virus may enter the body and lodge into the bone marrow and lymphoid tissues, where it can just sit for years without the cat ever showing signs until some stress brings it out.
  • The virus can replicate and cause illness and death.

Flicker image by -sel
Flicker image by -sel

What Causes Feline Leukemia

Feline Leukemia is actually caused by a virus, which of course is named simple enough, the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV).

An infected cat or a carrier of the Feline Leukemia Virus can infect other cats via their saliva, nasal secretions, tears, urine, and feces. So basically, an infected cat or a carrier cat can spread the virus via sharing a litter box, water bowl, and food bowl.

It is thought that mother cats can spread the Feline Leukemia Virus to its unborn kittens via the placenta. The Feline Leukemia Virus has also been found in the mother cat's milk, to which again gets passed to the kittens.

The most common place that you will see Feline Leukemia is in outdoor cats, especially outdoor male cats. When they fight, they end up with open wounds and whatnot, to which the Feline Leukemia Virus can spread from one male cat to another and then to a female cat and then to her kittens. But, that doesn't mean that your inside cat cannot get Feline Leukemia because remember it must be transferred cat to cat, so when you adopt a new cat or bring in a stray, you could be bringing in the virus.

Have all cats tested before you bring them into your home. Make sure that they are negative for the Feline Leukemia Virus.

Feline Leukemia Virus under a microscope
Feline Leukemia Virus under a microscope

Signs of Feline Leukemia

There are a number of symptoms that your cat may show. During the first few weeks after initially being exposed, a cat may show the following signs of Feline Leukemia:

  • Deficiency of any various cellular elements normally in the blood
  • General illness
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Mild fever

Other signs that you may notice throughout some stage of Feline Leukemia can include:

  • Anemia
  • Blood in the stool
  • Chronic and recurring infections
  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased stamina
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drinking
  • Excessive urination
  • Hind limb paralysis
  • Infertility
  • Jaundice
  • Low-grade fever
  • Lymphoid or myeloid tumors
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Weight loss

Symptoms of Feline Leukemia in pregnant cats can include:

  • Fetal resorption
  • Increased susceptibility to secondary bacterial or viral infections
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of body mass
  • Spontaneous abortion
  • Stunted Growth

Because about 30% of cats with Feline Leukemia end up developing cancer, you may want to be aware of the signs of myeloid tumors or lymphomas

  • Constipation
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Intestinal inflammation
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Neurological abnormalities
  • Respiratory distress
  • Vomiting

Feline Leukemia Test At Home

FELINE LEUKEMIA TEST At HOME-Save $150-Accurate Felv SALIVA test at Vet Lab-Most common disease of cats
FELINE LEUKEMIA TEST At HOME-Save $150-Accurate Felv SALIVA test at Vet Lab-Most common disease of cats

Pre-paid test at home kit for Feline Leukemia. Simply collect a small saliva or tear sample on a paper strip, place in the pre-paid envelope, and mail to the testing lab. Test is performed within 24 hours. Results sent to you via e-mail, fax, or mail.


Testing for Feline Leukemia

The test for Feline Leukemia is pretty simple. The vet will draw about a tenth of a teaspoon of blood from the cat's front leg. The blood is then processed and whether the cat has the Feline Leukemia Virus is determined in just minutes.

If the test is positive, then that means that the cat has been exposed to the virus, but if the test shows negative, then the cat has not had exposure to the Feline Leukemia Virus.

If the tests are positive, most vets will send off a blood sample to see if the actual virus is present because the cat could have been exposed but recovered or the virus could just be latent in the blood marrow.

All vets should have the proper tests for Feline Leukemia in the office.

Feline Leukemia Treatment

Once your cat has been tested positive for Feline Leukemia, there really isn't any treatment that you can pay for. The best thing that you can do is to make sure that the infected cat cannot pass the Feline Leukemia Virus to non-infected cats.

You can try the Lymphocyte T-Cell Immune Modulator, but it is not a 100% success treatment, and not all vets practice this treatment.

The best treatment for Feline Leukemia is prevention. You want to make sure that you have all cats that you plan on bringing home tested for the virus.

You also want to make sure that all cats who are negative for Feline Leukemia Virus are given the vaccination that helps prevent Feline Leukemia. The shots are typically given three weeks a part, and although they can not fully prevent the virus, it will give the cat better immunity against contracting the Feline Leukemia Virus.

Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. The methods outlined above may or may not work for your pet. If you have any concerns, you should consult a veterinarian.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I checked out the website for the Lymphocyte T-Cell Immunomodulator ( mentioned in your article and it appears quite promising based on the scientific data presented. I'm going to talk to my vet and do a little more online research.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have a stray male, losing hair,weight,and has a cold thinking this is what he has am going to try the vit c. Thanks

    • Marilyn Sloper profile image

      Marilyn Sloper 

      7 years ago

      About ten years ago I ran an in-home hospice for cats with feline leukemia. It began with my own cats who came down with the disease. I learned that the virus could be controlled using large doses of Vitamin C. Yes, vets will tell you that cats' bodies create their own vitamin C and therefore don't need us to give them more. However, SICK cats need lots more vitamin C than healthy ones do. Their bodies need assistance. In fact, cat shelters in the midwest that only take in feline leukemic cats had great success with vitamin C, They had discovered that 6 months of giving each cat 2000mgs of vitamin C would put the virus into remission so well that the cats would test negative for the disease. But the cats HAD TO STAY ON THAT SAME HIGH DOSAGE OF VITAMIN C FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. Since I had nothing to lose, I began using the same vitamin therapy they were using. The optimum dose is 2000mgs of vit c twice a day. You have to work up to it slowly. Start with 500mgs of human-grade vit c capsules. (The kind you take, yourself). Just break one in half and dissolve it into a tablespoon of water. After it dissolves add the vitamin C-water to a can of cat food or tuna fish. (Yes, tuna is not so good for cats...but your cat is already dying, so... if you can entice it to eat at all, just do it. You can switch from tuna to canned cat food later on). Feed your cat the vitamin C 2x daily. After 2-3 weeks increase each dosage from 500mg to 1,000mg. Go slowly because too much vit C can cause diarrhea until the cat's body adjusts to it. One of my cats was sent home to die. The vet allowed me to take him home so I could say goodby to him. It was that night when I learned about Vit.C. therapy and decided to take the chance. Neither my cat nor I had anything to lose by me trying this. Long story short....he became healthy and lived another 2 years when he died from a heart attack. EVERY FELINE LEUKEMIC CAT I EVER CARED FOR IN THIS MANNER SURVIVED WELL. TWO OF THEM WHO CAME DOWN WITH THE DISEASE AS KITTENS ARE NOW 13 AND 15 YEARS OLD, RESPECTIVELY. If you give the same vitamin C to ALL of your cats (both the healthy AND sick ones) you won't have to segregate your cats from each other. Healthy immune systems fight off the disease easily. It's only compromised immune systems, that is to say, already weakened ones that enable the cat to catch the disease.

      I am not a vet. I am only telling you what I have personally experienced in fighting this disease on my own. I had nothing to lose by trying. Neither do you.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for the information. Have two cats, both strays & just found out one has Feline Leukaemia. Heartbraking. It may well have come from a catfight with another stray.

    • rmills123 profile image


      8 years ago from Ecru,Ms

      Great hub I have two cats one outside and one inside. Keep up the good work.

    • Ryan Hupfer profile image

      Ryan Hupfer 

      10 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thanks for answering, Whitney...this is a well-written and well constructed Hub...great info.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 

      10 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      You can also reduce the chances of them contracting the disease by getting your cats spayed and castrated, as castrated male cats are less likely to scrap with other cats and incur wounds that could pass on the virus, and your spayed female cats are going to be of little interest to a male cat, so he is unlikely to "force" himself on her and risk giving her the virus.

    • Happy 1 profile image

      Happy 1 

      10 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for good info, I will send this to my friend, she takes in many stray cats.


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