Cat Leukemia -
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Cat leukemia, or feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a serious viral infection which reduces the cat's ability to fight infections.

This page goes through some of the most frequently asked questions about this disease. Other pages that might be of interest are:

Feline Leukemia Symptoms
Feline Leukemia Test
Feline Leukemia Treatment
Feline Leukemia Vaccine

Cat Leukemia - Common Questions And Answers

1) What is feline leukemia exactly?

It's a virus that attacks the cat's white blood cells. These are responsible for fighting infections. So a cat with leukemia will find it difficult to fight off infections that a healthy cat would get rid of easily.

As the disease progresses, he'll get more and more infections that he'll find increasingly hard to shake off.

2) So is it the same as Feline AIDS (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus?)

No. It's not the same virus as feline immunodeficiency virus, although quite a few of the symptoms and signs are similar.

3) Can humans catch it?

picture of ginger and white cat

No. It can't be transmitted to humans, and it can't give humans AIDS. It also can't infect other species - e.g. dogs. It's totally specific to cats.

4) How do cats get feline leukemia virus?

The virus is found in saliva, urine, blood and other secretions produced by cats. It's spread by licking and biting, and via shared food bowls and litter boxes.

The virus doesn't survive long outside the cat's body, so close contact is needed for infection to occur.

Kittens born to an infected mother will usually all be infected.

5) So can I give cat leukemia to my healthy cat if I've petted an FeLV infected cat?

It's highly unlikely, as the virus doesn't survive long away from the infected cat.

However, it may be possible to infect a healthy cat if you pass saliva, urine or blood from an infected cat to the healthy cat within a short space of time.

If you've petted a cat that you think may have been infected, just take sensible precautions before petting your cat - i.e. remove and launder any clothes that were in contact, thoroughly wash your hands with anti-bacterial handwash etc.

6) How do I reduce the risk of my cat getting FeLV?

The disease is often spread during a male cat fight. Neutering your cat will greatly reduce this fighting male cat behavior, and will therefore reduce the risk. Also, spaying your female cat will help to reduce the risk of her getting the disease through sex with an infected male.

There is a feline leukemia vaccine, but it's not 100 percent effective. However, your vet will probably recommend getting your cat vaccinated if he / she goes outside.

7) How is cat leukemia diagnosed?

The disease is diagnosed by a blood test. The vet will normally carry this out in-house first and then get it confirmed by a commercial lab. A lot of healthy cats will successfully get rid of the infection. For this reason, if a cat tests positive, the test is usually repeated 12 weeks later. Click here for more information on the feline leukemia test.

8) My cat is infected. What do I do now?

lazy cat

Your vet will have a detailed discussion with you when the diagnosis is confirmed. Things covered will include:

  • Keeping your cat indoors. This is recommended to prevent him from spreading the disease to other cats, and to help reduce the risk of him catching other infections.

  • What to do if you have a multi-cat household. Your vet will recommend getting the other cats tested too. You'll need to decide whether you keep the infected and non-infected cats apart. This is a difficult decision, and will take into account many different factors that are specific to your situation. Your vet will talk you through the options. Click here for advice on health insurance for your cat.

Cats with cat leukemia can live happily and healthily, sometimes for a number of years. A good relationship with your vet, regular check-ups and prompt treatment of any infections will help to prolong cat life expectancy and improve quality of life.

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