Feline Leukemia: Symptoms and Treatments for Cats

Keeping our cats healthy and safe is always our priority. Sadly, cats, like humans, can contract diseases and conditions that prove to be fatal. One of the most fatal diseases is feline leukemia, which acts quite differently from leukemia seen in humans. 

Read our Moline, IL, animal hospital’s article below on what feline leukemia is, the symptoms of feline leukemia, and any treatments for feline leukemia. 

feline leukemia moline, il

What is Feline Leukemia?

Feline leukemia is a virus that specifically targets cats. Researchers and scientists are unsure if the virus comes first or only infects cats with cancerous tumors. Cats are the only animal that is at risk for the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV).

The Feline Leukemia Virus works by invading important cells in the cat’s immune system. These invaded cells then either die or mutate. The mutation typically causes cancer in cats, but not always. Once they mutate, the original function of the cell changes, which can cause further issues in their health.

What Happens to Cats Exposed with FeLV?

This virus is unique and hard to find because of how easily it hides. Every cat is different. It is important to note that not all cats react the same way once they get the virus. Some cats may begin showing symptoms nearly immediately after being exposed to the virus. At the same time, other cats exposed to the Feline Leukemia Virus can go months or years without experiencing any symptoms.

Interestingly, some cats are able to defeat the virus without any medical attention. The cat’s immune system is strong enough to fight it off on its own. This is also why it is more likely for older cats that have pre-existing conditions to get serious effects from FeLV. Pet owners can prevent the Feline Leukemia Virus, but not before knowing the causes and symptoms.


The primary number one cause for feline leukemia is exposure to another cat with the same virus. Sadly, this condition is common and highly contagious to our furry feline friends. The causes of this virus include contact that transmits the virus. Saliva, urine, feces, and blood can transmit the Feline Leukemia Virus. The contact can be through:

  • Grooming
  • Playing
  • Fighting
  • Sharing the Same Bowl

These four exposure causes are not the only ones, though. Cats that live in multi-cat families that are allowed to go outside have a higher likeliness of contracting this virus. Cats that live in a home without other cats are unlikely to catch feline leukemia unless they are exposed to a cat with the virus on playdates or a trip to the vet.


As stated previously, this virus is unique, and every cat reacts differently. When exposed and infected with the virus, some cats will have no symptoms and can fight the virus through their strong immune system. This, of course, is not the case for all cats.

Young kittens and cats between the ages of 1-2 years old are likely to become infected with feline leukemia and display outward symptoms. The symptoms can be any of the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight Loss
  • Pale Yellow Gums
  • Bladder infection
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Lack of energy/lethargy
  • Fever

If any of these symptoms show in your cat, it is time to bring them to our Moline, IL, veterinarians for additional testing. There is no way to know what is causing the signs or symptoms without additional help, as many of these symptoms can be found in other conditions as well.


The diagnosis for feline leukemia differs from case to case. Once you bring in your feline friend, your local vet will ask some standard questions about their health and symptoms. It is essential for you to know when the symptoms started and for how long they have been around. If the veterinarian is concerned, they will ask for additional testing like a blood test.

Rapid Blood Test

The only way to diagnose feline leukemia is to conduct a rapid blood test in your veterinarian’s office. The rapid blood test is quick, painless, and easy. It is unlikely that your cat will feel anything during the process.

With the rapid blood test, the exam can become positive or negative for detection of the virus in the cat’s blood. With these tests, positive results can show for cats that are fighting feline leukemia effectively. In eight to twelve weeks, it is likely that your veterinarian will conduct a second test to see if the virus remains in your blood.

Afterward, it is time to discuss treatments.


Sadly, there is no current treatment or cure to completely get rid of feline leukemia. This is why the death rate is so high. Cats that acquire this virus are likely to die within three years of their prognosis.

While there are no treatments or cures for feline leukemia, cat owners can schedule regular checkups to prevent further issues like bacterial infections.

Some cats have also received chemotherapy for cancer that has developed through feline leukemia, but no definitive results have come from chemotherapy.


The best thing to do with feline leukemia is to protect your cat and prevent them from acquiring it. There are current vaccines for cats that help build their immunity to the Feline Leukemia Virus.

However, pet owners should still keep cats away from other cats. If you have a house cat that has never been exposed to another animal, it is not recommended to begin as an adult. Any carrier of feline leukemia can spread it to your fur baby.

Concerned About Feline Leukemia? Reach Out to Our Moline, IL, Animal Hospital

All in all, feline leukemia is an awful virus that can cause cancer in cats. The virus only affects cats and works by destroying healthy cells needed in their bodies to function. The prognosis is not good as there is no current cure for this virus. Instead, cats are estimated to live another three years after diagnosis.

The cause of this virus is through the transmission of fluid like blood, urine, saliva, and feces. The way to prevent your cat from acquiring this disease is by limiting their time with other cats, as carriers don’t always show symptoms.

If you are concerned your feline may have feline leukemia, or if it is time to schedule your cat’s regular exam, give our animal hospital in Moline, IL, a call at (309) 524-5696