How Can I Protect my Cat from Feline Leukemia?

Feline leukemia is a serious viral disease affecting cats. Feline leukemia is a complex of diseases that includes leukemia, cancerous tumors and non-cancerous diseases. Diseases in the feline leukemia complex are anemia, atrophy of the thymus gland, ulcers in the mouth, skin lesions, reproductive problems (like miscarriages and fading kitten syndrome), and chronic digestive and respiratory problems. Feline leukemia includes many diseases because it attacks a cat's immune system, similar to the way the HIV virus affects humans. With the immune system under attack, cats lose their ability to fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi that cause disease.

Feline leukemia is spread by direct contact with an infected cat. It's usually transmitted in saliva, but low levels of the virus can be found in urine and feces. Mating, licking, biting, and sneezing are common ways the virus is transmitted. Sharing food and water dishes and litterboxes between infected and healthy cats is another source of infection.

If your cat never comes into contact with other cats it is unlikely to get feline leukemia. However, accidental escape is common with cats, and visiting a boarding kennel or other unexpected contact with another cat increases the risk of exposure for your cat.

After a cat is infected with feline leukemia, there are 3 possible outcomes. About 40% develop immunity, clear the virus, and become resistant to future infection. In about 30% of infected cats the virus will become dormant and may emerge later in life. About 30% will be persistently contagious due to active virus in the blood stream and saliva. 80% of these cats will die within 3 years.

You can protect your cat from feline leukemia virus! We recommend that every cat is blood tested for feline leukemia. Cats with negative test results may receive a vaccine for protection against feline leukemia. We recommend that all cats that go outside or are exposed to cats that go outside receive this vaccination.

The most effective way to reduce the risk of feline leukemia is to eliminate your cat's contact with other cats. When this isn't practical, vaccination can protect your cat.

Posted on March 25, 2012 >> Article Archive >>Image: Robert Nilson /