What is Feline Leukemia? Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Living Conditions

Feline leukemia virus is a contiguous disease that cats catch by coming into contact with an infected cat’s saliva, blood, urine or feces. Feline leukemia virus weakens a cat’s immune system, making it more vulnerable to other deadly disease and infections such as cancer, immunodeficiency, anemia and blood disorders.

Types of feline leukemia

There are three basic types of feline leukemia and symptoms and signs an infected cat shows majorly depend on the type of feline leukemia virus the cat has developed. A feline leukemia virus-infected cat would have one of the following three types of the virus:

FeLV-A – Feline Leukemia Virus A
The infection caused by feline leukemia virus A is also known as immunosuppression, it severely weakens the immune system and it occurs to all infected cats.

FeLV-B – Feline Leukemia Virus B
Nearly half of the infected cats suffer from feline leukemia virus B and in extreme cases, the infection can lead to a tumor and development of other abnormal tissues.

FeLV-C – Feline Leukemia Virus C
FeLV-C is the common type of the virus and it affects around 1 percent of the total feline leukemia infected cats.

Symptoms of feline leukemia

At times, cats can develop a regressed feline leukemia infection where neither they are contagious nor they show any sign or symptom of the virus. However, usually feline leukemia virus is stronger than that and an infected is contiguous for other cats, as well as, it shows the signs of the infection.

Usually, the infected cats start showing symptoms and signs of the virus after the initial 2 to 4 weeks. Following are few of the common signs and symptoms of feline leukemia virus:

  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Progressive weight loss
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Poor coat condition
  • Abscesses
  • Diarrhea
  • Moisture in the eyes
  • Infection in outside the ear and skin
  • Inflammation of the nose
  • Bladder, upper respiratory and skin infections
  • Inflammation of mouth tissues and gums
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Appearing drunk, wobbly and uncoordinated

Furthermore, it is also possible for an infected cat to only show signs or symptoms of feline leukemia virus after months or even years of catching the virus.

Secondary conditions of feline leukemia

Feline leukemia is an autoimmune disorder, which is why sometimes it can lead to some other secondary infections and medical problems, such as:

  • Reproductive disorders
  • Anemia
  • Kidney disorders
  • Neurological disorders
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Platelet disorders
  • Respiratory and eye disorders
  • Lymphadenopathy
  • Oral diseases
  • Immunodeficiency and immune-mediated disorders

Causes of feline leukemia

Feline leukemia is a contagious infection and cats frequently catch the virus by bites, fighting, grooming, sharing dishes or litter pans or coming into contact with an infected cat in some other way. However, fighting and grooming of infected and non-infected cats together are one of the most commonly known causes of spreading the virus.
The feline leukemia virus cannot survive for long outside a cat’s body and it cannot be transmitted to other animals like dogs or humans. A kitten can develop feline leukemia infection, they may catch the virus by feeding on an infected mother’s milk or by getting born from an infected mother.
In addition, by exposing your cat to environments where they may get in contact with infected cats, you are increasing your cat’s chances of catching the virus. However, around 70 percent of cats when exposed to infected cats, their immune systems are able to eliminate the virus.

Diagnosis of feline leukemia

If you notice symptoms of feline leukemia or your cat have been getting sick too often, and you take it for a visit to the vet, he or she would definitely test for feline leukemia because not always cats show the signs of the virus within the early stage. At the same time, you vet would check your cat any secondary infection such as viral or bacterial infection or even non-viral cancer.
Your vet would follow the visit with a blood test and a urine test, for complete physical examination.

Treatment for feline leukemia

Once you get a positive diagnosis on the test, your vet will guide you throughout your cat’s treatment process, from the medication program for the virus to looking after any secondary condition. Other than the treatment program, you will also have to get your cat on an annual vaccination program for the intestinal and respiratory viruses. The vaccinations are very important for the overall health of your cat.
Feline leukemia weakens the immune system of infected cats and can make your infected cay more vulnerable to other medical conditions, further complicating your cat’s health. That’s why pet owners are suggested to take precatory steps in advance to provide their pets with the best care. They can give their cats’ fluids or nutritional supplements, which can help the cat react quicker to the treatment process.

Living conditions and management

Even after your cat is treated for feline leukemia virus, you still should monitor your cat’s overall health for some time to see if the signs of the virus are coming back. You should try your best to meet all follow-up appointment, medications or tests. Around 50 percent of cats catch some other viral or bacterial infection within the first 2 to 3 years of being treated for feline leukemia virus.
To avoid this possibility, it is suggested that you avoid your cat’s exposure to outdoors, and try to keep it separate from healthy and infected cats for time, for some time. Other than that you should also focus on providing a hygienic living environment for your cat and give them healthier diet and good nutrients to help them grow stronger and recover quickly. Lastly, remember the weak immune system of your cat and try to take necessary precautions to avoid catching any other infection feline leukemia test.


Prevention is always the better option than having to go through a long complex treatment process. Pet owners can prevent their cats from catching feline leukemia by keeping them indoors and not getting them exposed to infected cats. Getting your cats on vaccination program is also recommended prevention step and you should get a new cat or kitten tested before taking them home or to a shelter.

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