Feline Leukemia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Feline leukemia virus is something that every cat owner dreads hearing about. This is actually the most common infectious disease in cats, and many cats in the US are infected with it every year. Infection rates are much higher in stray cat populations, and those who adopt stray cats might have to face this diagnosis after their cat is tested. The occurrence of this disease has declined somewhat over the past 25 years because of testing procedures and a vaccine that is quite effective.

If you are worried about this, you might have a lot of questions about the causes, what the symptoms are, and what the treatment plan needs to be for a cat that has it. You can learn more about this common infectious disease in this guide so that you are prepared if your cat is diagnosed or if you decide to take in a pet that might be infected and are waiting for testing to confirm or deny the diagnosis. If you are ready to learn more about feline leukemia, you will want to keep reading for more information.

feline leukemia

What Causes Feline Leukemia?

Feline leukemia is a virus, and it is highly contagious. The virus is spread by nasal secretions, urine, feces, saliva, and even the milk of cats with the disease. This means that cats that come into contact with an infected cat are at major risk of contracting this disease as well. Infected mothers can also give feline leukemia to their kittens through their infected milk.

Healthy cats that are sharing a home with a cat with FeLV are almost guaranteed to contract the virus as well. The communicable nature of this condition is a big part of why veterinarians try to make sure that all of their clients vaccinate their kittens and even older cats that do not have FeLV already.


The symptoms of FeLV can be conflated with other conditions, especially in the early stages. This is why most vets will simply test for this when they see a cat with any of the associated symptoms to rule it out.

The main symptoms are listed below:

  • Progressive weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Poor coat condition
  • Persistent fever
  • Pale gums
  • Gingivitis
  • Inflammation of the mouth
  • Infections in the bladder or respiratory tract and skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Behavior changes
  • Neurological disorders
  • Eye conditions
  • Abortion of kittens
  • Reproductive issues

These symptoms are varied, and not every animal will show all of these symptoms. Some cats will only show a few of these symptoms. There is a small group of cats that also do not show any symptoms at all and are classified as carriers. This is why it is usually common practice to test all new pets that you have gotten to be sure that they do not have FeLV.


This condition is diagnosed with a blood test. When the blood test has confirmed the diagnosis, you and your vet will move on to treatment options for your pet.


There is no cure for FeLV at this time, so pets who have contracted it will be offered care for secondary conditions related to the original infection rather than treatment for FeLV itself.

Treating Secondary Issues

The mainstay of treatment for FeLV is addressing the secondary issues that your cat is probably struggling with related to the disease. This might be treating bacterial infections or giving blood transfusions to animals that are anemic. You will need to keep the pet that is infected with this disease away from your other cats, which can cause difficulty in some homes. Some people are forced to make their FeLV-carrying cat an outdoor cat, but this can also lead to infection of other cats that also live outdoors or that are strays.

Cats with FeLV can live a long life, despite their added health struggles due to their underlying health struggles. Many of these cats will need help maintaining a healthy weight, and they might need to be supported through secondary issues related to eye issues, oral health problems, and anemia. You will need to keep tabs on your cat’s behavior to make sure that you are not missing any of the signs that your cat is having new symptoms that need attention

Feline Leukemia is a Serious Condition

Feline Leukemia is a very serious condition and one that you will need to be sure that you work with a vet to create a treatment protocol for your infected cat. This is something that needs to be taken seriously so that your infected cat does not cause other pets in your home to become sick as well. Always make sure that you test any stray cat that you take in or adopt, even if they are not showing symptoms.

The treatments for this condition are limited, but you will have some options open to you to allow your cat with FeLV to have a full and comfortable life. FeLV is something that every pet owner should vaccinate for, and you will want to be sure that every cat that you own that is not infected gets vaccinated for this as soon as they are old enough. For more information, or if you need to see a veterinarian, contact Emergency Veterinary Care Centers by calling one of our locations. Our highly skilled teams are here 24/7 to help you and your pet.

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