Spot the Warning Signs of Feline Leukemia

Exhausted kitten laying in a basket

You can spot the warning signs of feline leukemia virus, aka FeLV, if you know what to look for. When the disease is detected early enough, you may even be able to take steps to lengthen the life of your cat.

What Is Feline Leukemia?

Feline Leukemia Virus is a virus that attacks cats. It can go undetected in the immune system for months and even years before it begins causing a problem. In fact, not every cat that has the virus will get feline leukemia. Some cats are only carriers, while others become sick with the disease. FeLV is very contagious.

The disease attacks the cat's body in one of three areas:

  • Chest
  • Abdomen
  • Entire body

FeLV is the second biggest cause of death in cats. It is responsible for at least 30 percent of malignant tumors in felines.

How FeLV Is Spread

Kittens and older cats are most susceptible to the virus. The virus is spread through the saliva of the infected cat. This can happen from sharing food, water or grooming. Other ways the virus can spread include:

  • From fleas
  • From mosquitoes
  • Sharing a litter box with an infected cat
  • Biting and play

Understanding the Warning Signs of Feline Leukemia

The warning signs vary for an individual cat depending on its health and where the virus is attacking. The animal may have a fever and swollen lymph nodes as well as some of the following symptoms.


It's easy to spot the warning signs of feline leukemia when the virus is settling in the chest. Your cat will develop coughing and other signs of respiratory problems. She may gag on the phlegm that is being produced. Wheezing is also common.


When the virus settles in the abdomen, your cat may experience bloating and other signs of abdominal problems. Weight loss is common. There may be loss of appetite, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Appetite changes in a cat are always a reason for concern. In the case of FeLV these changes in eating habits are often the first symptom of the virus.


Multi-centric leukemia (when the entire body is affected) can show itself in a number of ways. Typically malignant tumors begin to grow in various parts of the body. The immune system stops working and your pet may begin to get a variety of illnesses as well as being generally unhealthy. She may show signs of listlessness, sleepiness or personality changes. In addition, there may be whitening of the cat's gums that indicates anemia.

Know Your Cat

It is important to know your cat well so that if there are dietary sleep, or social changes, you will be aware of it. Sometimes the symptoms of Feline Leukemia come on suddenly, but many times they are gradual. When your cat changes gradually, they are more difficult to spot.

Take your cat in to the vet as soon as you suspect she may be ill. FeLV is diagnosed with a simple blood test, and it is the only way to know for sure if your cat is sick. The sooner that your pet is diagnosed, the better chance she has at a long and happy life. While FeLV is deadly, making dietary changes and taking medications prescribed by the vet can help extend the life of your cat.

The warning signs of feline leukemia are subtle and sometimes difficult to read. If you have any concerns about your pet's health at all you should take your cat to the vet for an evaluation.

Spot the Warning Signs of Feline Leukemia