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What is Leukemia?

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV), a retrovirus, is a leading cause of feline mortality. If detected in the early stages, the outlook is positive for eliminating the virus. The prognosis is poor in the case of recurrence or if the virus reaches advanced stages before detection.

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV), is second only to accidents as the leading cause of death for cats. The good news is that most healthy cats can resist and eliminate the virus when infected, if treated early. A vaccine for FeLV is available and commonly offered by your veterinarian as a part of routine immunizations. FeLV suppresses the cat’s immune system and can lead to additional infections. Anemia or lymphoma are also possible complications of contracting FeLV.

Leukemia Average Cost

From 378 quotes ranging from $200 - $1,000

Average Cost

$650

Symptoms of Leukemia in Cats

During the early stages of FeLV, your cat may not exhibit any specific symptoms.You may notice a progressive deterioration of your cat’s health or periods of relatively good health intermingled with periods of poor health. Symptoms of FeLV may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent fever
  • Pale or inflamed gums
  • Eye conditions
  • Poor condition of coat
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Changes in behavior
  • Yellow color in mouth or whites of eyes
  • Trouble breathing
  • Bladder or skin infections
  • Progressive weakness
  • Reproductive problems in unspayed females
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Causes of Leukemia in Cats

FeLV is a retrovirus that is transmitted from cat to cat through saliva, tears, urine, feces or mother’s milk. Transmission of the virus occurs only from cat to cat. Other family pets or human family members are not at risk of contracting the virus from your cat. Common means of transmission of the virus include:

  • Grooming 
  • Fighting
  • Biting/wounds/scratches
  • Shared litter boxes
  • Mother to kitten transmission in utero or through nursing
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Diagnosis of Leukemia in Cats

Your veterinarian will complete a thorough examination of your cat. The sooner your cat begins treatment, the better. Be prepared to share information regarding when you first noticed symptoms, the symptoms you noticed and if any changes have occurred. 

A blood test, known as ELISA, will be administered to identify leukemia proteins in the blood. This test is highly sensitive in detecting early infections. In the early stages of FeLV, the cat’s immune system may be able to fight off the virus and eliminate the infection. If initial ELISA testing is positive, an additional test should be completed as confirmation.

An additional blood test, Immunofluorescent Antibody (IFA), may be necessary. The IFA test detects the progression of the infection. A positive IFA result means the disease has advanced. 

Another test that may be used to further investigate the possibility or advancement of FeLV is a polymerase chain (PCR) test.

FeLV infection generally falls into three categories: 

  • Healthy cats with good immune systems can often fight off the infection.
  • Some cats will not be able to rid themselves of all of the infection and will continue to have a latent infection, which may or may not become active.
  • A persistently infected cat will exhibit no effective immune response to the infection.
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Treatment of Leukemia in Cats

If your cat tests positive for FeLV, your veterinarian will treat him according to the level of infection. Your vet may recommended supportive care, such as fluids and nutritional therapy. Antibiotics to treat secondary infections may be prescribed. In severe cases, antiviral drugs or chemotherapy may be recommended.

Keep in mind that no test is 100% accurate. If it is highly likely that your cat was exposed to FeLV, but ELISA testing showed a negative result, the cat should be retested in 30 days. If the ELISA testing is positive, but the IFA is negative, your cat should be retested in 60 days. 

The best treatment for FeLV is prevention. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends FeLV screening for all cats. Any cat that comes in contact with other cats other than those in their immediate family should be screened. Any cat that goes outdoors, stays in a boarding facility or participates in shows should be screened and vaccinated against FeLV. 

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Recovery of Leukemia in Cats

Recovery depends on the degree of infection. Cats who are positive for FeLV should receive regular veterinary check-ups to prevent further infection and manage the stages of the disease. Your cat should be kept indoors and neutered or spayed. Contact your veterinarian to address any suspected secondary infections as soon as possible.

  • A single cat home is the best environment for a FeLV positive cat.
  • Feed your cat a high-quality food. 
  • Give your cat vitamin supplements. 
  • Keep your cat’s nails clipped and smooth to avoid scratches.
  • Monitor your cat’s temperature, if elevated (over 102.4⁰f), contact your veterinarian.
  • Do not give your cat raw foods.

While there is no cure for cat leukemia, your pet can live a good quality life with proper care and follow-up with your veterinarian. The majority of cats who test positive for FeLV live about three years after infection.

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Leukemia Average Cost

From 378 quotes ranging from $200 - $1,000

Average Cost

$650

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Leukemia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Leaha

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DOMESTIC

dog-age-icon

9 Months

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Moderate severity

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2 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Lethargy, Loss Of Appetie

Hi there, I found a 5 week old abandoned kitten and took her home. I took her to get vaccinations and all has been well. She is now about 9 months old, totally indoor single cat not exposed to other cats at all. She was taken to the vet a couple days ago because she lost her appetite and was acting sluggish. The vet called and said she tested positive for Leukemia. My question is; is it possible that she can still fight off the leukemia and prevent it from transferring to her bone marrow or does she probably already have the leukemia in her bone marrow as evidenced by her side effects? I am concerned because I think she may have contracted it as a kitten and has advanced causing her symptoms.

July 23, 2018

Leaha's Owner


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2 Recommendations

There is a long incubation period which may be measured in months or years before the disease starts to show clinical symptoms; I cannot determine the progression or severity of the disease without examining Leaha, however once a cat tests positive it does mean that the bone marrow is affected. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 24, 2018

Thank you for your response. She only tested positive on the snap test. Vet is waiting on the ELISA. It is my understanding a positive on the Snap test can mean that the virus hasn’t gotten into the bone marrow yet, so they might be able to fight it off. Is this understanding incorrect? I am trying to determine if we should keep fighting for her or if the disease is already too advanced. She has been on IV antibiotics for about 24 hours now and I do not know if she should be showing improvement yet.

July 24, 2018

Leaha's Owner

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Emma

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Black and white cat

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5 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Eatting Litter

My female cat is 5 years old. Lately i caught her eating litter. The extra on the floor. She doesn't seem ill or anything. I read it could be a nutrient deficiancy. So i ordered some powder from Chewy. It will give her extra nutrients. But I also read it could be feline leukemia!! I checked her gums which were pink in color, and like I said she's as active as always. Have any suggestions??

July 21, 2018

Emma's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

I don't think that Emma eating litter means that she has leukemia, and if she is perfectly healthy otherwise, perhaps changing litter may help? Make sure that she is on a good quality food, and if she is showing any other strange signs, it might be best to have her examined by your veterinarian.

July 22, 2018

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Tiger

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Tabby mancoon

dog-age-icon

6 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Fatigue
Puking
Excessive Saliva
Confusion
Parvo
Excessive Appetite
Lukemia

We have a cat we recently took in from outside, he has leukemia and parvo with zero white blood cells. We have taken him to the vet and the vet said he seems like he wants to fight and he thinks we should let him. He's still going however the past two days he has changed. He is still active but his appetite has gotten greater has eating about 3 cans of cat food a day plus his dry food and drinking water. He had been puking a lot though these 2 days as well it almost seems like he is confused or losing his mind, digging in an empty trash can which he hasn't done since we first brought him in a year ago... Why would he be acting like this? And what should or could we do to help him. Thank you in advance a very concerned cat mommy.

June 9, 2018

Tiger's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

I'm honestly not sure from your description if Tiger is feeling better, and eating more, or if he is having negative effects from having Leukemia and Feline Panleukopenia. Neurologic signs don't typically happen with those diseases, and he may be feeling better... since I cannot see him, it would be a good idea to have him rechecked with your veterinarian to make sure that everything is going as expected, and see if there is anything more that you can do for her.

June 9, 2018

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Quan

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Domestic longhair

dog-age-icon

12 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss
Loss Of Appetite

I have 2 cats who were outdoor cats for the first 2 years of their lives. For the last 10 years both have been indoor cats with no contact with other cats. My cat Quan was losing weight and started to exhibit fussy eating habits. I took her to the vet suspecting she had an adrenal issue. They ran all sorts of tests, x-rays and eventually performed a SNAP ELSA test. It came back positive so they did another test which was also positive. I immediately went and had my other cat, Tappy tested. He has chronic bronchitis due to the air conditions in San Francisco but is otherwise healthy. Both of his SNAP ELSA tests came back negative. They are very affectionate, constantly groom one another and are definitely swapping saliva, leading me to believe it is extremely bizarre that Quan tested positive while Tappy's test were both negative. I made sure to get the exact blood samples required by the National Veterinary Lab, Inc. in New Jersey for both cats so I can have them for the IFA test. I already spent over $2600 for the initial round of hospital overnight(s), testing, meds and so forth. I have 3 very simple questions: 1. Because of the high cost of the IFA test, would you recommend I send both samples to the lab or just send Quan's sample who tested positive on both of her SNAP ELSA tests? 2. How common or likely is it for one cat to be positive for FeLV and the other test negative when they are extremely affectionate and should technically both be infected? 3. How common or likely is it for one (or both) to have FeLV after having been indoor cats for over a decade and not show any noticeable symptoms, be healthy, happy, active and still alive?

May 9, 2018

Quan's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

If you feel that the tests were inaccurate, having them both tested with the IFA test makes sense. It is possible for some cats to be more prone to infectious diasease than others, and the signs of FeLV can be very subtle, if they ever occur. Quan may have had this disease fo years before it became evident, and Tappy may have avoided getting it through having a stronger immune system. Some cats never show signs of FeLV, and some are quite sickly. I hope that both of your cats do well.

May 9, 2018

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Lara

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Bengal

dog-age-icon

1 Year

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Much Less Active

hello. I have a cat, she is 1,9 year old. two weeks ago we noticed that she became less active.general blood analysis was very bad, but biochemical analysis of blood and ultrasonography were ok. the next day we found a donor and made blood transfusion. She feels much better after this, but general bloOd anslysi is becoming worth. and we made several test, one is positive: leukemia. Doctor says that there is no chances but she prescribed some medicine. one of them is UNIDOX SOLUTAB. what can you advise, maybe additional treatment? Thank you in advance

April 2, 2018

Lara's Owner

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0 Recommendations

There is no real treatment for feline leukemia, however some cats may live relatively normal lives with appropriate management of diet, stress, environment and other factors; I encourage you to read the articles below to get a better understanding. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.msdvetmanual.com/generalized-conditions/feline-leukemia-virus-and-related-diseases/feline-leukemia-virus-and-related-diseases-in-cats-overview www2.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-leukemia-virus

April 2, 2018

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Felix

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Domestic long hair

dog-age-icon

6 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Decreased Appetite
Lethargic
Pale Nose, Gums

My 6 month old Felix has been sick on and off since we found him battling what we thought was a viral infection. A week ago we noticed he was laying around more, less playful and really didn’t want to be bothered so we took him to the vet. The vet kept in provided IV fluids, blood work, ultrasound and meds. We picked him up on Tuesday, it is now Friday and while he isn’t eating the amount of food a healthy cat would he is still eating. Our vet said we have two choices based on the diagnosis of some form of leukemia. Wait and waiting continuing the meds to see if he can fight it off or consider euthanasia. Such a hard decision. Would appreciate others thoughts. His nose is pale almost white, his gums the same and the pads in his feet the same. His blood work shows very low red count and I think white counts. Vet said his body isn’t producing enough bone barrow to fight the disease or infection. How long do we wait?

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Max

dog-breed-icon

ginger

dog-age-icon

6 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Fever
Vomiting
Loss Of Appetite
Rapid Breathing
Sleepiness

Max is an outdoor-indoor cat, I’ve had him my whole life, and recently has been having trouble breathing, loss of appetite, sleepiness, fever, and vomiting. I’m not sure what to do with him.....

Leukemia Average Cost

From 378 quotes ranging from $200 - $1,000

Average Cost

$650

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