The Feline Leukemia Virus is the leading viral cause for death and cancer in domestic cats. One of the reasons why this virus is so dangerous, is that cats spread the disease to one another through a host of different ways. The germs can pass by saliva, urine, feces, nursing, and through even sneezing and runny noses. Some of the most common ways a cat can pass the virus is if one bites another cat, if two cats are being groomed in the same space, or if two cats are sharing a feeding/water bowl or litter box. If an infected mother nurses, she will also pass the feline leukemia through her milk to the kittens. However, cats most often contract the disease when they are allowed to wander outside, or if they are regularly exposed to other felines.

Because the risk of catching FeLV disease is increased when a cat is an indoor/outdoor pet, we generally advise people to keep their kitty as an indoor-only animal for their protection. Find out what the symptoms of a FeLV infection are, as well as how you can prevent and treat the disease.

Symptoms of FeLV

A difficult aspect of feline leukemia is that not every cat will manifest the same symptoms or even the same ebbs and flow of energy.  A cat may be infected but show no signs for years, or may have periods of good health, with intermittent seasons of weakness, low-energy or poor health. While there are a range of variables, here are the symptoms to be on the lookout for in FeLV:

  • exhaustion/lethargy
  • fever
  • diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • labored breathing or odd breathing patterns
  • yellowish gums and the whites of the eyes

Unfortunately, these same symptoms may be present in other illnesses as well. If you are concerned that your cat may be infected,  take him to the vet to receive the two blood tests that will diagnose whether or not the disease is in fact FeLV.

Prevention & Treatment

Tragically, there is no known treatment for feline leukemia, and the virus is almost always fatal. However, there are two ways in which you can help protect your cat from contracting the disease.  Ensure that they receive the vaccination recommended for cats who may have been exposed to other infected felines. Additionally, keeping your cat indoors will greatly reduce the risk of infection, since contact with other cats will be very limited, and generally always supervised. If a cat does get feline leukemia, they usually do not live beyond 2-3 years from when they were infected. Therefore, make sure the vaccinations are given before the cat enters your home, and be watchful of all interactions with other cats when possible. It is better to be safe than sorry!