Feline Leukemia Virus Q&A

Dr. Stephanie Everidge

  1. What is Feline Leukemia Virus?

It is a virus that is one of the most common to infect cats. The virus can become a persistent infection and can lead to the immune system not working properly.  This virus can also cause anemia and cancer in cats.  Since it can affect the immune system, infections are more common as well as inflammation in cats that have this virus.  Feline leukemia virus is fatal and 80-90% of cats infected with Feline Leukemia Virus will die within 3-4 years of the initial diagnosis.

  1. How is Feline Leukemia Virus spread?

The virus is spread by close contact with an infected cat. The virus can be spread through saliva, blood, urine, fecal material, nasal discharge, or even in milk.  Sharing of food bowels or waters bowls, litterbox sharing, mutual grooming, and bite wounds can also spread the virus.  Pregnant cats can also infect kittens while in the uterus as well as by nursing.  Less common spread of the virus can occur through blood transfusions, fomites, and contaminated instruments.

  1. Is there treatment of Feline Leukemia Virus?

There is no specific treatment or cure of Feline Leukemia Virus. The treatment is aimed at helped patients with secondary infections and to control these secondary infections.  This can be completed by using antibiotics or other treatments to help the immune system.

  1. Is there any prevention for the virus?

Yes. There is a vaccine that is recommended for cats with risk for the virus.  We usually recommend for any cat that goes outdoors to have the vaccine series performed due to risk of contact with other cats. This vaccine is then boostered every year for the rest of the cat’s life.   The vaccine is usually very safe but please address any questions or concerns with your veterinarian.

Also, it is recommended for multi-cat households to have testing completed of all cats before introduction of a new cat. If a cat in your household is positive for the virus, the best way to prevent spread is to separate the infected cats vs. the uninfected cats.   The good news is that the virus does not survive outside the body very well and common household cleaners such as bleach can kill the virus.

  1. Is there a test for Feline Leukemia infection?

Yes. There is a specific test that has been developed to detect the virus in cat’s blood.  This test is usually very specific but false positives can occur.  Therefore, retesting of your cat or completing a different test may be recommended.  Kittens are usually tested for this virus before adoption.

  1. Any other recommendations for cats with Feline Leukemia virus?

Yes. It is recommended for cats with Feline Leukemia Virus to have bloodwork yearly to look for changes with red blood cells and signs of infection.  Also, sometimes radiographs of the chest or abdomen may be recommended.