Symptoms of leukemia in cats


The treatment of feline leukemia is not easy. In fact, most of the diagnosed cats end up dying in a few months, is one of the feline diseases with the highest mortality rate. Therefore, we must be very careful to make life as bearable as possible to the sick cat.

Treatment of feline leukemia

When a cat is diagnosed with leukemia you have to take care of it very carefully. However, with good care you can live well for a few years.

It is important to give a Comfortable, cozy and quiet environment, without stress or tension. In addition, you will have to take good care of your diet, giving it the best possible quality and always following the advice of your veterinarian. During the treatment of feline leukemia It is better not to give your cat raw food, since his illness makes him much more vulnerable to infections, intoxications and parasites.

If your cat has leukemia, Don't let him relate to other cats! This way you will avoid contagions, fights, pregnancies… In addition, you will have to regularly check their behavior, appearance and state of health, if you find symptoms of illness, go quickly to your veterinarian!

Veterinary treatment of leukemia in cats requires periodic reviews several times a year to study the progress of the disease and to treat secondary diseases. This test includes abdominal palpation and revision of the gums, eyes, skin and nodes. Analytics, adequate vaccinations and deworming are also performed.

In case of lymphosarcoma, It is treated with chemotherapy and corticosteroids. It has been proven that antivirals used in humans do not give good results in cats, although many side effects do. Conversely, The results of defense stimulant medications have yielded optimistic results.. However, the treatment of feline leukemia remains under investigation.

Feline leukemia is a disease with a very poor prognosis, but with proper treatment and care the sick cat can achieve a quality of life Decent for several years.

What is feline leukemia or VLFe?

As veterinarian Carlos Rodríguez explained in our post feline leukemia, viral diseases are the main cause of the morbidity and nontraumatic mortality of domestic cats.

This is a revealing fact of the great incidence that this type of diseases have on the feline population.

About the VLFe, which is the abbreviation of Feline Leukemia Virus, Notably It is a very serious chronic disease, caused by a retrovirus, which weakens the cat's immune system.

VLFe causes leukemia, a type of blood cell cancer - lymphocytes. The viral infection acts by weakening the animal in its fight against other diseases. Unfortunately, without proper treatment or controls, it can lead to the death of the cat.

The positive part is that vaccination, together with the fact that it is a virus with little capacity for survival in the environment and sensitive to disinfectants, makes it an easily controllable disease.

"The feline leukemia virus was identified in 1964 as a possible cause of lymphomas in a group of cats."

Common routes of infection

Feline leukemia virus spreads mainly through saliva or nasal secretions.

But there are other routes of transmission of the disease, such as:

  • Ingestion of water or infected food
  • Infection due to scratches or bites in fights between cats
  • Inoculation by transmitting insects
  • Contagion through the placenta of infected mothers
  • By urine, feces or tears
  • By grooming between cats

We must emphasize that transmission is more likely in environments with poor hygiene or places where animals are crammed or free on the street and without any control

In these sites it is also likely that there is infestation by fleas or other insects that may be vectors of other dangerous diseases.

If you see an abandoned kitten and want to take it home, the first thing you should do is go with him to the veterinarian, to rule out any disease that also puts the cat you already have at home at risk.

“It is believed that the origin of the leukemia virus goes back more than a million years, when a rat retrovirus infected an ancestor of our cats. This infectious agent eventually became a feline virus. ”

How to prevent infection?

“If my cat has leukemia, what do I do?”, Is one of the questions that people who share their lives with these animals usually ask.

If you think your cat can live in a risky situation, take it to the veterinarian as soon as possible. The specialist will advise you on preventive measures and, in case of infection, will prescribe the most appropriate treatment.

Remember that vaccination must be accompanied by other measures, such as preventing the healthy cat from coming into contact with another infected.

Before vaccination, it is essential to perform specific tests to confirm or rule out the infection. In the event that the test is positive, all the guidelines indicated by the doctor must be followed.

Although vaccine protection is not total, experts insist on recommending it, especially in situations of risk.

"The most effective measure to prevent infection, apart from vaccination, is to prevent healthy cats from coming into contact with those infected."

VLFe: diverse and varied symptoms

Symptomatology of feline leukemia groups from apparently mild disorders, such as lack of appetite, to major disorders, such as infections.

Here is a list of the effects that cats usually have with this disease:

  • Inapetence
  • Weightloss
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness, inactivity (lethargy)
  • Lack of cleanliness
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Oral diseases
  • Stomatitis
  • Gingivitis
  • Leaving the usual customs, how to use the sandbox
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin lesions
  • Anemia
  • Periodic bacterial and viral infections
  • Skin infections
  • Coat deficiencies
  • Bladder infections
  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Simultaneous decrease in the number of white, red and platelet cells
  • Swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)
  • Jaundice

It is estimated that around 25% of infected cats get anemia and around 15% cancer, especially of lymphocytes.

As noted, the symptoms are multiple and some may go unnoticed or be associated with other minor disorders, so it is essential to be very attentive and check with the veterinarian any questions about the health of our cat.

Treatment and prognosis of leukemia in cats

The reality is that, today, there are no antiviral treatments that are considered safe and totally effective in coping with this condition.

What they do Some drugs is to treat the symptoms of diseases associated with the infection. Other medications are used to control virus replication. Attempts are also made to stop the infection by substances that enhance the immune response.

According to specialists, the prognosis of VLFe is not good and in cases where the virus is not defeated by the immune system, it can be lethal.

About 85% of cats infected with the virus die between six months and four years after diagnosis.

The good news is that the prognosis may vary to reserved in the event that cats that test positive are totally healthy at that time.

With due veterinary care and all the affection of their humans, a cat infected with VLFe can continue to accompany us for years with a good quality of life.

Phase I: acute or primary

This phase lasts several weeks, although if complications occur it can last for months. Phase I is transient and almost never lethal, most signs recover with appropriate treatments.

Cats have nonspecific clinical signs, mainly generalized lymphadenopathy, anorexia, transient fever, cytopenias, dehydration and lethargy. In this phase complications can appear, especially if an infection with the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) coexists, such as facial pustular dermatitis, pneumonia, diarrhea and sepsis, and can be lethal.

Phase II: asymptomatic

This phase lasts from several months to about two years. The infection passes to a chronic stage of asymptomatic carrier. It is a latency phase in which there is no serious clinical symptomatology, but in which there is a decrease in T lymphocytes and hyperglobulinemia.

During this phase, although the animal is apparently healthy, its immune system is gradually weakening.

In some animals this situation can be maintained for life, without developing any clinical picture.

What is leukemia in cats

He virusof feline leukemia (which is usually transcribed as FeLV, by its acronym in English) is a retrovirus that infects cats, and is incorporated into the genetic material of the cell, making it very difficult to treat.

Is responsible for numerous diseases and subsequent complications, which can be lethal. One of them is Leukemia, but other ailments derived from FeLV include liver diseases, anemia, leukopenia, opportunistic infections or abortions.

The Feline Viral Leukemia is a cancer that affects leukocytes, a type of white blood cells present in the blood and bone marrow that are responsible for defending the body against infections and other external agents.

Having feline leukemia, the immune system loses its strength and the cat is unable to fight other diseases that come later, so that even a simple cold can complicate a cat with leukemia.

Feline Leukemia Symptoms

What are the symptoms of leukemia in cats. The feline leukemia it is a disease caused by a virus Y attack at cat fenders (leaving him weaker to fight against other diseases).

The virus can affect the cat in various ways. Initially, if contagion occurs there will be an initial stage between 2 weeks and three months, in which they can no symptoms observed

In case they do appear symptoms of the feline leukemia They are varied, and include:

  • fever may be a symptom of feline leukemia
  • pale gums
  • low food intake,
  • a cat with leukemia has a low tone,
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • worsening of the fur and wounds on the cat's skin
  • other diseases appear (bladder, respiratory, mouth, anemia, etc).
  • they make their needs out of the sandbox
  • they neglect their personal cleanliness

If you want a more detailed list, check out this article about their 12 symptoms

Feline leukemia contagion Is leukemia contagious?

Yes. For a feline leukemia infection to occur, it is necessary for the cat to be in contact with other cats. Feline leukemia, or rather, the FeLV virus it is transmitted from an infected cat to a healthy one, through:

  • ltosaliva,
  • the tears and
  • nasal secretions.
  • But it may also be the case that a pregnant cat infects her youngin the womb or later during the lactation period.

By saying saliva, tears and nasal secretions we see that there is a multitude of situations in the daily life of a cat that is in contact with other cats in which situations of risk for contagion occur. The spread of feline leukemia can occur, for example, between cats that lick each other, during Street fights, or for him continued use of the same drinking fountain.

That's why the incidence of the feline leukemia its alot higher between poblation of cats that they live together, since one infected would be exposing others daily. For example, a place of risk in this regard is the colonies of cats in which cats live free but come to feed all together at one point. If a colony cat gets leukemia, it is very likely to spread to other cats.

If your cat never leaves the house and has no contact with any other cat, the chances of a leukemia infection are virtually nonexistent. But if your cat, even if he lives at home, comes out to the garden or to the roof, travel, visit one hairdressing of pets, you take it to a kindergarten for cats or a exposition, there you will have contact with other cats and the risk appears.

However, there is no need to create alarm, contagion does not occur so easily. Generally, when a sporadic contact with the virus FeLV, the cat's immune system can repel infection and create antibodies against this virus. In this way, the cat can become immune and not develop the disease. The risk is much higher when the cat is constantly exposed to the virus (for example, by living with an infected partner).

General description

The feline leukemia virus is widespread among cats worldwide and in persistently infected specimens it causes a severe depression of the immune system. Growth retardation and cancer are two of the many alterations caused by this virus, which is incurable and can cause death. Vaccination prevents persistent infection and disease.

He feline leukemia virus (FeLV) It is a virus present throughout the world. Any cat can be infected by the virus, but the risk of infection varies greatly depending on age, habits, general health and the environment in which he lives. The virus does not infect other pets or people.

FeLV can be transmitted by mutual grooming (including that of the mother to kittens) or through wounds caused by bites. The virus is present in body fluids, especially in saliva and in urine and feces. The virus does not survive outside the cat's body, so close contact between the infected and healthy animal is usually essential for transmission.

The virus can also be transmitted by the mother to kittens during pregnancy and, after birth, through her milk.

Once the animal has been infected, the virus multiplies in the bloodstream. During this initial phase the cat can overcome the infection and kill the virus, even without manifesting any symptoms. However, in some cats the immune system cannot eradicate the virus, and these animals remain persistently infected for the rest of their lives. They get sick and end up dying months or years after suffering the initial infection.

Persistent infection with FeLV can cause the appearance of a large number of diseases and chronic disorders. The most common are described below.

  • Fever and lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Gradual thinning
  • Deterioration of the fur
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes
  • Slow recovery from current diseases
  • Anemia, occurs in about 25% of cases and is manifested, among others, by paleness of the gums and other mucous membranes.
  • Infections of the skin or upper respiratory tract
  • Gastrointestinal signs

Cancer affects about 15% of infected cats and can be of the following types:

  • Bone marrow (leukemia)
  • Cancer (lymphosarcoma) in one or more of the following organs:
    • Lymph nodes
    • Scam
    • Kidneys
    • Intestine
    • Liver
    • Eyes or nose

Clinical diagnosis

  • The symptoms are always too nonspecific to issue a diagnosis with certainty, especially during the first months.
  • Any cat that shows a delay in its growth or a clear deterioration of its body mass (they are smaller and skinny looking animals) should arouse the veterinarian's suspicion.

Diagnostic tests

The presence of the virus in the bloodstream can be confirmed with laboratory tests.

  • The veterinarian usually performs an ELISA test in the clinic laboratory.
  • Sometimes other blood tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis and complete the clinical picture.
  • These tests are sometimes negative in the case of certain types of tumors because the virus is no longer found in the blood (although it can still be present in other parts of the body), in these cases it is necessary to perform a biopsy of the affected organ.

There is no medicine that can eliminate the feline leukemia virus or that can cure the diseases that it causes, in fact, only a supportive treatment can be applied. Despite this, this treatment can make the cat maintain an acceptable quality of life for many months or years.

General support

  • Long cycles of antibiotics are often required to eradicate opportunistic infections.
  • It is advisable to avoid any source of stress, such as that which the animal suffers when changes are made in its routine or in its place of res>Tumors

  • Chemotherapy has shown some success in the control of some FeLV-related tumors, although for a limited time.

Cats infected or suspected of being infected by the feline leukemia virus should not breed and pose a risk to other cats because they can spread the virus. This can be a problem if the infected animal lives with other healthy cats or walks outside.

The vaccination It can prevent persistent infection and consequently the disease. The feline leukemia virus vaccine may be included in the general vaccination, or it may be offered as a complement to it. Therefore, talk carefully to the veterinarian about your needs.

The veterinarian will advise you on the most suitable vaccination program for your kitten or cat.

Vaccination will not help if your cat is already infected. Hence the importance of checking that you are not infected by the leukemia virus before vaccinating. Choose a kitten from a cat that knows it is not infected by the virus. If you are not sure, or if you want to adopt an adult, the veterinarian may recommend doing a blood test.

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Tests to detect if a cat has feline leukemia

If you have doubts that you cat have feline leukemia, you must take it as soon as possible to the vet to do a blood test. There are several tests that you vet It can offer you when diagnosing if your cat has leukemia.

If you have picked up a cat from the street, wait 2 weeks before taking it for the leukemia test. The reason is that from the initial infection, the virus can take 2 weeks to pass into the cat's blood, which is where it is detected.

How much does a feline leukemia test cost? The cost of this test varies by veterinarian, but usually around 40 or 50 euros in Spain. In general it is recommended to repeat the test after a few weeks to ensure the result.

  • ELISA: from a sample of blood. Determines initial stages of the infection, and does not specify whether it will be a permanent viremia or if the cat will eventually eliminate the virus. It is necessary to confirm this test after a few weeks.
  • IFA: detects the presence of viruses in an irreversible stage of infection, so it is valid> PCR: directly detect Infected DNA in cat cells. It is> Leukemia in cats is treated, and is no reason in itself to sacrifice a cat.

The reality is that this disease It can't be cured but remains as chronic disease. But what is done is control the infection and offer special care to the cat, as we pointed out before. Cats diagnosed with leukemia who follow a veterinary treatment they can get to live several years with an almost "normal" life. The care and medications your cat will need against leukemia must be prescribed by your veterinarian, and include:

  • give it a good diet, healthy and balanced.
  • offer you a v>1. If your cat has no contact with other cats:

For cats that live indoors and never have contact with other external cats, the risk of transmission of feline leukemia is virtually non-existent

Cat in the garden (yes it would be at risk).

2. If your cat does have contact with other cats:

  • Feline Leukemia Vaccine: For the cats that do have contact with other cats (for example, because you have a hardín and there you access cats from your neighbors or because you take him to play with a friend's cat) there is a specific vaccine against Feline leukemiawhich is quite effective, (but like all of them, it does not work in 100% of vaccinated cats). -My cats, for example, do have this vaccine. You can read here cat vaccinations, which are the most important vaccines and when they are administered.
  • If you are going to adopt a second cat: If you already have a cat at home and are thinking about adopt another, especially if it is street or comes from a colony of cats, as we said before do the feline leukemia tests.
  • Shelter: In case you collaborate with a feline association and are thinking of being «Foster home>

    Hygiene can also influence. It is believed that the FeLV virus is relatively fragile and does not live long outside the cat.

    Therefore, it is convenient Disinfect well feeders, drinking fountains and sandboxes regularly with bleach If you have a group of cats living together or a colony of cats, to help prevent leukemia.


    Susana Dolinda Rodriguez says

    Unfortunately and with a lot of pain I just lost my cat to feline leukemia. I think it took a long time to find the disease, but that's it. We have the pain and anguish of not having it anymore. We will let a little time go by, to look for another. We miss her a lot. My question is whether I can continue using their things (drinking fountain, toys, etc.) or should I throw everything away. Thank you

    For security, you better throw it all away. If not, you would have to disinfect it at high temperatures or with specific products.

    Hello! A week ago they left me a baby kitten so that I will take care of him and it turns out that that kitten was very skinny that even his ribs were seen, at first he ate well and his diarrhea was removed but as on the third day he died, I don't know he had the baby but I worry that I have 10 cats that are healthy and I don't want anything to happen to them when they bring that sick kitty 😥😥

    Miguel Guzmán says

    They were in touch? Ask your veterinarian if you should take any extra precautions, and clean very well with chlorine all the areas that the sick kitten stepped on, everything I touch, his feeder and drinking fountain with chlorine, and throws his clothes and toys in the trash, and washes your clothes with the hottest washing machine program.

    What is feline leukemia?

    The feline leukemia It is a chronic disease caused by a retrovirus. The most common effect of the infection is the weakening of the cat's immune system (immunosuppression).

    The virus of the feline leukemia It infects cells of the immune system, destroying or damaging them. This leaves the animal exposed to a wide variety of diseases and secondary infections.

    FeLV belongs to the same family of viruses as that of the Feline immunodeficiency (IVF). It is estimated that, in Spain, between 1% and 2% of cats are infected.

    Feline leukemia: how it is spread

    VLFe is transmitted between infected cats, primarily through the saliva waves nasal secretions.

    From the Study Group of Feline Medicine of Spain (GEMFE), of the Association of Spanish Veterinarians Specialists in Small Animals (AVEPA), warn that:

    “The virus spreads through habits where there is an exchange of saliva between cats, such as grooming or sharing the feeder and the trough. Alternatively, FeLV infection may be caused by bites or by contact with urine and feces containing the virus. It is also possible that the virus passes from the mother to the puppies during pregnancy or through infected breast milk. ”

    The good news is that Not all cats that are exposed to the leukemia virus become infected. They may not have been exposed to a sufficient amount of the virus or their immune system has successfully eliminated the infection.

    Is it possible to spread cats to people?

    No. The probability of contagion of cats to people is void since it is a specific feline virus, which does not occur in humans.

    Symptoms of a cat with feline leukemia

    The clinical signs are very diverse including fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and weight. Respiratory, skin and intestinal signs are also common. Cats can suffer several diseases at the same time.

    Anemia occurs in 25% of infected cats. In 15% of infected cats cancer occurs. The most common is lymphoma, a cancer of lymphocytes (a type of white cell) that causes tumors or leukemia.

    Vaccine against feline leukemia

    The best prevention against leukemia is to avoid cat contact with other infected individuals and, of course, vaccinate. There are multiple vaccines available for the feline leukemia virus. The purpose of these vaccines is to prevent cats exposed to the virus from becoming permanently infected.

    Unfortunately, no vaccine has 100% effective protection against infection, but it is highly recommended in situations where cats have a high risk of exposure to the virus.

    _ Bibliography and links of interest Mars Inc. Veterinary Oral Health Council (English) American Veterinary Medical Association (English) Tell us your case If you have any questions about what you just read, the Nutro veterinary team will clarify it to you personally in our FACEBOOK or TWITTER. Do not stop writing to us!

    Phase IV: AIDS

    Its duration can also vary from months to years. We can differentiate in it two stages.

    • Initial stage or pre-AIDS: chronic non-opportunistic infections appear, mainly bacterial infections typical of cats. The clinical signs that we can find are, among others, gingivitis, stomatitis, rhinitis, recurrent conjunctivitis, respiratory infections, chronic infections in the skin and in the digestive system.
    • AIDS stage or syndrome itself: It is the terminal phase, in which both the usual and rare opportunistic infections appear (unlike the pre-AIDS stage, in which the infections are non-opportunistic). Some examples are herpesviruses, mycobacteria, toxoplasmosis and generalized parasitosis. Immunomediated diseases such as polyarthritis, anemia or thrombocytopenia may also occur.

    In this phase the patient cannot develop an adequate immune response to infections and eventually dies from chronic syndrome of consumption, neurological disease, neoplasia or systemic opportunistic infections.