Is Feline Leukemia Contagious?

Feline leukemia is one of the most common fatal diseases experienced by cats. It is a form of blood cancer known as “lymphocytes“. Primarily, this malignant cat ailment is caused by the so called feline leukemia virus (FeLV). FeLV is a lethal, infectious retrovirus that affects your felines’ immune system which becomes leaves them susceptible to additional forms of cancers and other associated diseases. This kind of virus can be transmitted between infected cats when there is transfer or sharing of saliva or nasal secretions. Although FeLV is similar to the viruses that are responsible for feline immunodeficiency diseases (FIV) and human acquired immune deficiency syndrome, studies have shown that FeLV cannot be transferred on to other animals or to humans. They can only be passed on to other cats.

How do cats get feline leukemia?

Cats which are infected with FeLV can be considered as sources of infection. The virus is shared in extremely high quantities in saliva and nasal secretions. It can also be acquired from urine, feces, and milk from infected cats. Transferring of the virus from cat-to-cat may occur during mutual grooming, sharing of litter boxes and feeding dishes, and from a bite wound. Moreover, transmission of the virus can take place from an infected feline mother to her kittens, either before they are born or while they are nurtured. Thus, this disease is considered to be contagious.

Signs and Symptoms of Feline Leukemia

There are three forms of feline leukemia, namely chest, abdominal, and multi-centric. The signs that can be seen in your cats depend on the lymph nodes and organs involved.
For those felines which are suffering from chest leukemia, they might experience symptoms similar to:

  • Difficulties in breathing
  • Coughing
  • Enlargement of chest lymph nodes
  • Fluid accumulation in the chest
  • Gagging
  • Compressed windpipe and esophagus

If your cats are suffering abdominal leukemia, the malignant cells may possibly be present in the liver, intestines, spleen, kidney, and lymph nodes. Thus, your felines may experience symptoms like:

  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Jaundice
  • Anemia

Whenever your feline friends are experiencing multi-centric lymphoma, they might be suffering the following:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Infertility
  • Sleepiness
  • Personality changes
  • Poor coat condition
  • Variety of eye conditions
  • Excessive drinking and urinating
  • Formation of tumor in other organs
  • Enlargement of lymph nodes under the skin
  • Whitening of the gums and other mucus membranes
  • Decrease in the number of platelets
  • Neurological diseases (which include seizures, blindness, ataxia or loss of balance, and hind paralysis

Progression of Feline Leukemia

There are several stages on how the virus deteriorates cats’ body.

  • The virus replicates in the lymphatic tissue in the oral cavity.
  • Whenever the immune system fails to stop the problem at this stage, the virus spreads to white blood cells that circulate the body.
  • White blood cells spread the virus to lymph nodes in the rest of the body. Generally, cats make antibodies at this stage about 60 to 80 percent to prevent further replication of the virus.
  • If these antibodies are not made, the virus spreads through the circulation to the bone marrow where it will remain for the rest of the cats’ life.
  • White blood cells and platelets that are typically made in the bone marrow pick up this virus and bring it back into the circulation.
  • The virus then is spread to the salivary glands, tear glands, and the bladder and at this stage, the virus can be shared and infect other cats.

How common is feline leukemia?

Feline leukemia is very common to cats nowadays. It has been thought to be the number one cat killer. However, statistics may vary depending on the area. For instance, in West Virginia, it is said that 23% of the cat population is being infected by FeLV. It is also recorded that 12% of Ohio’s cat population has contracted by this retrovirus.

How long can a cat live with feline leukemia?

There is no accurate timeline for how long a cat with feline leukemia can survive. Normally, strong cats with feline leukemia can survive longer than those weak ones since their immune system deteriorates slower than those felines which have poor immune systems. Furthermore, weaker cats tend to run through the illness quicker and experience more suffering during the latter phases. Kittens which are exposed to feline leukemia and are younger than eight months tend to have poor immune systems which makes them experience faster deterioration. Studies also show that cats that tend to have this disease can survive for more than 4 years.

Feline Leukemia Shots

Your cats’ immune system plays a vital role in maintaining your cats’ health. One of its main and important functions is to protect cats’ bodies against diseases and infection. Diseases and infections are caused by foreign invaders similar to bacteria, viruses, and a host of other microbes and parasites that attack the body and cause diseases like feline leukemia. That is why feline leukemia vaccinations should be given in order to prepare the body’s immune system against foreign invasion by particular disease-causing germs. However, the feline leukemia vaccine effectiveness is not 100%. There is risk when a vaccinated cat is housed with an infected cat. It is suggested that cats that are FeLV-positive should not be housed with FeLV-negative cats, even those which have been vaccinated. Also, it is possible that there is a small chance that reactions may develop as a result of vaccination. Mild reactions might occur like a low grade fever, decreased appetite and activity, sneezing at about four to seven days after administration of an intranasal vaccine, and discomfort at the area where the vaccine was injected.

Feline Leukemia Treatment

There is no treatment for feline leukemia itself. However, there are ways on how to prevent the malignant cells from deteriorating your cats’ bodies rapidly. These involve keeping your cat as healthy as possible, feeding them nutritious cat foods and implementing a well-balanced diet. Another alternative treatment includes chemotherapy for cats, surgery and radiation. However, some cancer diseases can be treated depending on what stage the cancer is. That is why if you have noticed several feline leukemia symptoms, you have to immediately bring your cats to a veterinarian for further medications. The best way to keep your cat from contracting this deadly disease is to keep them indoors. By limiting their exposure to other cats, you seriously reduce their risk of infection.

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11 Responses to Is Feline Leukemia Contagious?

  • Linda Byerly says:

    I have a question. If I have a cat that has just passed away from Feline Leukemia, how long should I wait before I get another cat? Thank you.

  • Doc says:

    My cat Boris was euthanized from FIV back in June of 2003. The vet advised me to make sure ALL toys were thrown away including his bed-area. Clean the house thoroughly with bleach a few times as a precaution to disinfect the house and allow 6 months or so before bringing a new cat into the house. If you do so sooner you risk infecting the new cat with the disease. We got a new cat in November of 2003 and she is doing fine even though we moved in June of 2005.

  • Shawna says:

    why is leukemia so prevelant in kittens and cats?

  • My kitty of 5yrs, died of mediastinal lymphoma, and asthma, any connection to leukemia? He had a wbc # of 35,000.

  • Tunde says:

    FeLV is prevalent because many shelters and private rescues does NOT do the blood testing before adopting out cats. So the disease can spread happily.
    Plus of course, the stray cat populations where mating goes on the whole time and the toms fight with each other spreads FeLV further and then I suppose when the queens deliver their kitties, those get the infection via mother milk…

    FIV is another virus and actually we had a cat with FIV and other, FIV negative cats and we kept them together not knowing of the infection in that time.
    The cats liked and therefore never fought each other. They only played with each other.
    After the FIV cat died (war only approx. 4 years old and had to be euthanized due to the last stage of this disease) we let the other be tested. All of them were negative.
    It is now long time ago and all the other cats are fine, all of them are still alive and healthy so far.
    As far as I know, in contrary to FeLV is FIV not very contagious.
    But many feral toms get it as they fight each other and bite each other then.

    I think because of these diseases, feral cats sadly have a very short life.

    I wish there would be more municipalities like the Municipality of Almirante Brownin Argentina, where they do free of charge mass spay/neuter.
    http://www.canadianvoiceforanimals.org/files/animal_control_program.doc

  • Wendy in Arvada says:

    If I have healthy adult cats — 5+ years — and I have them vaccinated, can I bring in a leukemia-positive cat who is also very healthy; has lived in a cottage at a rescue shelter for more than 2 years. He is a delightful cat. None of my cats or he would EVER fight/bite.

  • janice mills says:

    i have a small cat rescue for 4 years now we have 2 cats who are 14 years one who is 5 years a the rest are 4 years and under i adore everyone of them we recently got back a 1 year old who was adopted when he was 16 weeks old and today for the first time since i have been rescuing i received the news that our newest addition is feline luk positive so heart broke don’t know what to do all the others were tested prior and vaccinated should i fear them being infected as well ?

  • devil says:

    My cat of 3 years old died to leukemia today and i have another cat in the house does he have a risk of infection

  • devin says:

    My cat of three years old died of leukemia is my other cat at risk?

  • Sarah in PA says:

    So two of the cats in my home recently passed away from a form of Leukemia. There are three other cats, all female, and we are not sure what to do. They don’t show any signs of having cancer but they shared the same litter box and dishes with the now dead cats. I am so worried for these other ones, could someone please advice me what to do? I can’t bleach the house with them living here so I don’t know what the best step would be

  • Bob says:

    Wendy, I just saw your thread concerning bringing a FELV+ cat into your home to live amongst your other cats, which are negative, yet up to date with their shots. Having two FELV + cats living in my home, I can tell you that if you do bring the positive cat indoors to live, than you will have to isolate that kitty in another room with the door closed. As well, you will need a seperate litter box in the room, along with seperate toys, cat bed, along with a food & water bowl. For, unfortunatley, the healthy cats & the FELV+ cat can “NEVER” be together, as Feline Leukemia is “HIGHLY” contagious. I hope I hav ebeen of help to you.

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