Feline Leukemia: What Every New Cat Owner Should Know

13 October 2015
 Categories: , Blog


Feline leukemia is a serious viral illness that is contagious between cats. Kittens are more likely to contract it than adult cats, though adult cats are still susceptible. There is no cure for this disease, which attacks the immune system and can be lethal. Thus, it is important that cat owners know the basics about feline leukemia so that they can protect their cats and recognize the symptoms early, should their cat become infected.

How Feline Leukemia is Spread

Cats who are infected with the virus can pass it to other cats through their saliva, feces, and reproductive fluids. If in infected cat licks, bites, shares a food bowl or shares a litter box with your cat, then there is a good chance your cat will become infected. Some cats begin to show symptoms within days of being infected with the virus, while others do not show symptoms for a couple of weeks.  Feline leukemia is specific to cats – humans, dogs and other animals cannot become ill from the virus.

Diagnosing and Treating Feline Leukemia

The symptoms of feline leukemia vary widely. Usually, the primary symptoms are extreme lethargy and loss of appetite. The cat's coat condition begins to decline, and he or she may develop a fever, diarrhea, jaundice, and swollen lymph nodes. Many cats develop secondary infections when infected with feline leukemia, since the virus weakens the immune system. They may develop a bladder infection or a respiratory infection. The symptoms usually start off less severe, but become more pronounced over a period of several weeks.

If you think your cat may have feline leukemia, it is important to seek veterinary care right away. While your vet cannot cure the illness, he or she can prescribe pain relieving and anti-viral medications to delay the progression of your cat's infection and keep him or her comfortable. However, it is important to understand that your cat will eventually succumb to the illness. If your cat is badly ailing, your vet may suggest euthanasia.

How to Protect Your Cat From Feline Leukemia

The primary way to prevent your cat from acquiring feline leukemia is to have your cat vaccinated against this illness. Your vet will administer the first vaccines when your cat is a kitten (between 12 and 13 weeks of age and again at 16 – 18 weeks of age), and then he or she will need to be revaccinated annually.

Before your cat is old enough to be vaccinated, you will want to protect him or her from feline leukemia by minimizing contact with other cats, unless you know for a fact that those cats are vaccinated. Avoid taking your unvaccinated kitten to a kennel; have a friend watch it at home if you're going away. Do not let your kitten outside, and do not introduce any new cats to the home until he or she is fully vaccinated.

By understanding how feline leukemia is transmitted and prevented, you can do more to protect your cat from this disastrous illness. For more information on pet diseases and conditions, contact a company like Orange Grove Animal Hospital.