Feline Leukemia: Symptoms and Treatment

Leucemia Felina: Síntomas y Tratamiento

Feline leukemia (FeLV) is a retrovirus that belongs to the same group of viruses as HIV, and affects cats worldwide. Today, it is less common in cats than before. And although cats that carry the feline leukemia virus can live for several years, they need some special care to maintain their health and prevent infection.

It is for this reason that in this blog we want to tell you the details of this disease, the key preventive measures that can help protect our cats against feline leukemia and how we can identify and treat this disease in its early stages to increase the chances of recovery. 

What is feline leukemia?

Feline leukemia, also known as FeLV, is a viral disease that exclusively affects cats. It is caused by the Feline Leukemia Virus, which is transmitted primarily through direct contact between infected cats, especially through saliva, blood, and sexual contact. Once a cat contracts the virus, its immune system is weakened, making it susceptible to secondary infections and health problems.

Additionally, feline leukemia can affect blood cell production, which can lead to bleeding disorders, anemia, and affect internal organs. Although there is no cure for this disease, with proper management and consistent veterinary care, many cats can have a good quality of life despite the infection. Early detection through specific blood tests is essential to provide the best possible care for a cat affected by feline leukemia.

Symptoms of a cat with leukemia

A cat affected by feline leukemia may display a variety of signs and symptoms that can vary in intensity. Some of the common signs to look out for are:

  • Fever and lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • gradual thinning
  • deterioration of the coat
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes
  • Slow recovery from common illnesses
  • Anemia; It occurs in around 25% of cases and is manifested, among others, by paleness of the gums and other mucous membranes.
  • Skin or upper respiratory tract infections
  • Gastrointestinal signs.

It is important to note that these signs are not exclusive to feline leukemia and may be caused by other diseases. If you notice any of these signs in your cat, it's important to take him to a vet for an accurate diagnosis. Specific blood tests can confirm the presence of the feline leukemia virus and help establish an appropriate treatment plan.

How is it contagious?

It is transmitted between cats through saliva when they groom each other, share food dishes, and are generally around each other. It can also be transmitted by other body secretions, such as blood and milk. It is a virus that can hide in the cells of the cat or kitten's body, which is called latency. The virus inserts its DNA into the cat's DNA and can wake up and cause disease long after the initial infection.

How long does it take for feline leukemia to manifest ?

The manifestation of feline leukemia can vary considerably from one cat to another. In some cases, symptoms can appear quickly after infection, while in other cats it can take months or even years before obvious signs of the disease appear.

Following exposure to feline leukemia virus (FeLV), some cats may experience an initial phase of transient viremia, in which the virus is detected in the blood, but the cat's immune system is able to control the infection and clear the virus from spontaneously. In these cases, the cat may show no symptoms and develop an effective immune response, allowing it to successfully fight off the infection.

However, in other cats, the infection can persist and cause long-term health problems. The virus can affect the cat's immune system and cause various complications, such as recurrent infections, anemia, respiratory problems, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, neurological disorders, and cancer.

It is important to note that some cats can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus and transmit it to other cats without showing signs of disease themselves.

How long can a cat with feline leukemia live ?

The life expectancy of a cat with feline leukemia can vary depending on the cat's general health, the presence of secondary complications, and the treatment received. Although, there is no definitive answer, since each case is unique and there can be a wide variability in the results.

In general, it is estimated that cats diagnosed with feline leukemia have a reduced life expectancy compared to cats that are not infected. Some cats can live for only a few months after diagnosis, especially if they have severe symptoms or additional complications. Other cats can live for several years with an acceptable quality of life, especially if proper care is provided and supportive treatments are given to control symptoms and improve their well-being.

What should I do if my cat has leukemia ?

If your cat has been diagnosed with feline leukemia, it's important to take immediate steps to provide proper care. Here are some steps you can take:

Consult a veterinarian specializing in feline diseases

Find a vet experienced in treating cats with feline leukemia. Your vet will be able to provide you with specific information about your cat's health status, the degree of infection, and available treatment options.

Discuss prognosis and treatment options

The vet will explain the prognosis of the disease in your cat and the treatment options available. This may include supportive therapies to control symptoms, treatments to prevent or treat secondary infections, medications to boost the immune system, and dietary changes to maintain the cat's health and well-being.

Provide a suitable environment

Create a safe and comfortable environment for your cat. Make sure he has access to nutritious food, fresh water, and a warm bedding. Minimize stress and provide a quiet place for your cat to rest.

Maintain good hygiene

Feline leukemia is highly contagious between cats, so it's important to pay attention to cat hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus. Be sure to regularly clean food and water dishes, litter boxes, and areas where the cat spends time. Also, separate infected cats from other uninfected cats to prevent transmission of the virus.

Carry out regular veterinary checks

Schedule regular vet visits to assess your cat's health status and adjust the treatment plan as needed. This will allow the progression of the disease to be monitored and treatment adjustments to be made to maintain the best possible quality of life.

Remember, not only should you take your pet to the vet for this or other diseases such as ringworm in cats , toxoplasmosis in cats , and feline panleukopenia , but you should also go to a consultation for follow-up and control of deworming in cats or the sterilization of cats if necessary. It is always better to prevent, also they feel protected and pampered.

How to prevent leukemia?

Fortunately, there is a vaccine that helps prevent persistent infections and this fatal disease. The feline leukemia vaccine is one of the main vaccines, which means it is required for all cats and kittens. Talk to your vet to set up an appropriate vaccination schedule for your kitty.


There is no drug that can kill the feline leukemia virus or cure the diseases it causes; in fact, only a support treatment can be applied. Despite this, such treatment may allow the cat to maintain an acceptable quality of life for many months or years.

Soothe pain with CBD for cats

CBD (cannabidiol) has gained popularity in the field of veterinary medicine as an alternative treatment option for various conditions in cats, including feline leukemia. And the use of CBD has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anxiolytic properties in animal studies. Some pet owners have reported that the use of CBD products has helped improve the quality of life of their cats with leukemia by reducing symptoms such as pain, inflammation, cat stress, and anxiety. And undoubtedly the treats or oils with CBD will help your michi to reduce his anxiety and be calmer in his day to day.

To learn more about dosage, the uses and benefits of CBD in pets, visit our article Benefits of CBD in Cats and if you want to know the products with CBD for cats that Waggy's has for your cat, visit our catalogue.


In conclusion, feline leukemia is a complex disease that represents a significant challenge for our feline friends. While there is no definitive cure, early detection, proper treatment, and preventative measures can make all the difference in the lives of affected cats. Working closely with specialized veterinarians, following vaccination guidelines, maintaining a clean and safe environment, and providing the necessary care are essential to improve the quality of life for cats with leukemia. In addition, further research and exploration of new therapeutic options, including the use of CBD, under the supervision of veterinary professionals, is needed to improve the understanding and management of this disease. With love, care, and the right support, we can help our beloved cats cope with the challenges of feline leukemia and give them full and happy lives.

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