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What is Feline Leukemia?

Stories from HART

What is Feline Leukemia?

Sarah Myers

The Feline Leukemia Virus is quite common in cats. It affects 2-3% of cats in the United States. Cats who are already ill are more likely to get the virus. However, due to an effective vaccine, the presence of the virus has decreased.

What causes Feline Leukemia?

This virus can be contracted through contact with other cats. Cats can get the virus from bites, contact, grooming, or sharing food or water bowls. Cats can also get it at birth from the mother’s milk. Kittens are very vulnerable to the virus as are male cats and cats who are outdoors.


What are the symptoms?

Cats who have the virus may not show symptoms for years. However, when a cat does show signs of feline leukemia, he/she may experience

●      Loss of appetite

●      Anemia

●      Weight loss

●      Fever

●      Inflammation of gums

●      Diarrhea

●      Seizures

●      Variety of eye conditions

●      Inability to reproduce

●      Enlarged lymph nodes

●      Skin, bladder, and ear infections

●      Weakness

If you see your cat experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to take your cat to the HART Bredel Veterinary Clinic. The vet will normally work to rule out any other types of infections or cancers.


There are blood tests available to determine if your cat has feline leukemia. The two blood tests used will identify a protein component of the virus. The first blood test is called ELISA or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. This is a sensitive test and can find the virus in the early stages. This test can be done in the veterinarian’s office. The second blood test is IFA or indirect immunofluorescent antibody assay. This test is used to figure out the progressiveness of the virus by finding the virus in the white blood cells, which indicates a more advanced infection. This test is usually sent to a diagnostic lab. Cats that test positive in the IFA test usually stay infected for life. It is important to consult with HART Bredel Veterinary Clinic to determine which test is best for your cat.


There are some therapies that reduce the amount of the virus in the bloodstream, but the therapies have many side effects and may not work in all cases. There is currently no cure for this virus. While there are also no medications that cure the virus, there are medications that help alleviate some symptoms. Steroids, chemotherapy, and antiviral drugs are typically prescribed to cats with this virus.


Preventative strategies:

The only sure-fire way to keep your cat from getting feline leukemia is to keep them away from potentially infected cats. It is important to keep your cat indoors and away from any type of stray or feral cat. If you do allow your cat some outdoor playtime, it is recommended to provide supervision and an enclosed space to ensure your cat will not wander off or fight another cat. Any cat should be tested for the virus before being introduced to another home or another cat. Uninfected cats may need to be housed separately than cats who have the virus. There is also a vaccine available as well. The vaccine is not 100% effective, but it can help. It is advised to speak with a vet at the Bredel Veterinary Clinic to discuss pros and cons of the vaccine.



When you receive the news of your cat having feline leukemia, it is easy to think the worst. However, cats who are diagnosed with the virus can live a normal life. The average survival time for a cat diagnosed with feline leukemia is around 2-3 years. It is important to monitor your cat’s weight, appetite, level of activity, appearance, and behavior. Any unusual signs should be reported to Bredel Veterinary Clinic for further treatment.