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Is Feline Leukemia A Cancer Or A Virus, And Is It Contagious?

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is often a confusing subject because of its name. In humans, leukemia is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow, but cat leukemia is actually a virus. However, it can cause serious health issues and lead to cancer in cats. 

Feline leukemia is highly contagious and one of the most common infectious diseases in cats. Luckily, preventative veterinary care can help you detect early signs of feline leukemia and protect your cat from infection.

What is Feline Leukemia?

Feline leukemia is a highly contagious disease that can be fatal in cats. This virus attacks the bone marrow, allowing cancers to take hold. FeLV infected cats are also more susceptible to anemia, lymphoma, and other illnesses, making it one of the leading causes of feline fatality.

There are actually three types of feline leukemia virus (FeLV): 

  • FeLV-A
  • FeLV-B
  • FeLV-C

FeLV can affect cats differently depending on which type they have. All cats infected with the virus test positive for FeLV-A, which is the virus that makes the disease so dangerous since it suppresses the immune system. About half of FeLV positive cats also have FeLV-B, which causes abnormal tissue growth and tumors.

FeLV-C is the third and rarest type that affects only a small percent of infected cats, causing severe anemia. Cats that test positive for FeLV can have one, two, or all three types of the virus. 

Is Feline Leukemia Contagious?

Feline leukemia is highly contagious. In fact, it’s sometimes referred to as the “friendly cat” disease since it’s easily spread from cat to cat through contact that shares saliva or nasal secretions, such as mutual grooming or biting. 

Cats are at a greater risk of FeLV infection if they come into close contact with other infected cats. Kittens are also at a greater risk of infection, especially if they are born to infected mothers. 

Keeping your cat indoors can help reduce the risk of feline leukemia, other viruses and diseases, and cancer. Even healthy cats they come in contact with outdoors may be unvaccinated and carrying the virus. Staying inside also reduces the risk of squamous cell carcinoma (a type of skin cancer) because it protects your cat from repeated sunlight exposure. 

Feline Leukemia Symptoms

The most common feline leukemia symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Abscesses or sores
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Skin infections and poor coat condition
  • Wobbly, unsteady gait or movement
  • Runny nose, inflammation of gums and/or mouth tissue
  • Lymphoma (cancer that develops from FeLV)
  • Fibrosarcomas (cancer that develops from fibrous tissue)

Cat at the vet - PetWellClinic
If your cat is experiencing feline leukemia symptoms, walk into your nearest PetWellClinic today!

The major risk of feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is that it weakens the immune system, which increases the risk of illness and developing a secondary infection. About a third of cats with FeLV develop a virus-related cancer, most commonly lymphoma or, less commonly leukemia.

Cats that have been infected by the feline leukemia virus commonly show no or few symptoms in the early stages of the disease. But over time—weeks, months, or sometimes even years—symptoms progress. While initial symptoms might be subtle, monitoring your cat closely is crucial for early detection.

If your cat is showing signs of infection, walk into your nearest PetWellClinic® to get your cat tested for FeLV. A simple blood test by one of our vets can indicate whether or not your cat has the feline leukemia virus.

Feline Leukemia Treatment

While there’s no definitive cure for FeLV, vets can treat infected cats for symptoms as they occur. For example, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics if your cat’s leukemia causes bacterial infections, or they may need to give your cat blood transfusions for severe anemia. 

Fortunately, feline leukemia vaccines are safe and effective, and getting your cat vaccinated for FeLV can help prevent them from developing the disease in the first place. PetWellClinic® can help you determine your cat’s risk for exposure to feline leukemia, and how the FeLV vaccination may protect your cat should unexpected exposure occur.

Cat with owner at the vet - PetWellClinic
Walk in today to get your cat’s FeLV vaccine! No appointments are ever necessary.

We also offer comprehensive Kitten Packages and Cat Wellness Packages that include all the necessary vaccinations your cat needs for a healthy, long life. By bundling vaccines with other preventative care services like lab tests and physical exams, our packages make vet care for cats as convenient as possible.

PetWellClinic® is dedicated to being here for pet owners. Our hours of operation extend into the evenings and weekends, and our clinic environment is built with your pet’s comfort in mind. Talk to your PetWellClinic® veterinarian if you have questions or concerns about feline leukemia in your kitty.

PetWellClinic® provides convenient, affordable veterinary care for pet owners. PetWellClinic® has locations and services built with convenience in mind. Stop by with your pet any time! No appointment necessary.

This blog has been updated since its original publication in 2017 for comprehensiveness.

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