Feline Leukemia Virus – Contagious, Dangerous and Needs to be Tested!
13 January, 2015


Feline Leukemia Virus (FLV) is a horrible disease for our kittens that can severely inhibit a cat’s immune system. It is one of the most commonly diagnosed causes of disease and death in domestic cats, second to trauma.The virus commonly causes anemia or lymphoma, but because it suppresses the immune system, it can also predispose cats to deadly infections.  Therefore, it is very important to have your kitty or cat tested for FLV before you bring your cat home.  Most shelters and/or rescue groups will test for FLV before you bring your kitty home.

How Do Cats Get FLV?

The FLV virus is shed in many bodily fluids, including saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces and blood. FLV is most commonly transmitted through direct contact, mutual grooming and through sharing litter boxes, food and water bowls. It can also be passed in utero or through mother’s milk. Outdoor cats who get into fights with other cats can transmit the disease through bites and scratches.  However, healthy cats over three months old and vaccinated for FLV are highly unlikely to contract the virus from another cat.

How Feline Leukemia Virus Is Transmitted

Feline leukemia is a disease that only affects cats; it cannot be transmitted to people, dogs, or other animals. FLV is passed from one cat to another through saliva, blood, and to some extent, urine and feces. The virus does not live long outside the cat’s body. Grooming and fighting (since it involves interaction) seem to be the most common way for infection to spread. Kittens can contract the disease in through an infected mother’s milk. The disease is often spread by apparently healthy cats, so even if a cat appears healthy, he or she might be infected and able to transmit the virus.

Your Cat’s Risk Factors

Exposure to infected cats raises your cat’s risk of contracting FLV, especially for kittens and young adult cats. Older cats are less likely to contract the infection, because resistance seems to increase with age. For indoor-only cats, the risk of contracting FLV is very low. Cats in multi-cat households or in catteries are more at risk, especially if they share water and food dishes and litter boxes.


Only about 3% of cats in single-cat households have the virus, but for cats that spend time outdoors, the rate is much higher. Still, the prevalence of FLV has decreased over the last 25 years because of vaccines and reliable tests.

The below are the symptoms of FLV:

Loss of appetite and weight loss, pale or inflamed gums, poor coat condition, fever, upper respiratory infections, diarrhea and vomiting, seizures, behavioral changes, vision problems, swollen lymph nodes, reproductive issues in female cats, jaundice, respiratory issues, and lethargy.

How is FLV Diagnosed?

There are several types of tests available to diagnose FLV. Most veterinarians and shelters use the ELISA enzyme-linked test, which detects antigen to the FELV virus in the bloodstream.

How can you help your cat with FLV?

Feed your cat a nutritionally balanced diet, one free of raw meat, eggs and unpasteurized dairy products, which can harbor bacteria and parasites and lead to infection.  It is also recommended to make a quiet place for your cat to rest indoors and away from other cats who could promote disease.  You should also bring your cat to the vet every six months for a checkup and blood tests.

Is FLV contagious?

FLV is contagious to other cats, but not to humans or other species. Other cats in the house can acquire the virus from an infected cat. Though the virus doesn’t live long outside of the body, and is easily inactivated with common disinfectants, it can be passed through shared food and water as well as common litter boxes.

Is there a treatment for FLV?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for FLV, and it is estimated that less than twenty percent of clinically infected cats survive more than three years of active infection. In the case of those cats who develop cancer, chemotherapy can help prolong life, but treatment often focuses on providing the best quality of life.

Can you prevent FLV from occurring?

There is a vaccine available for cats who are at risk of contracting FLV. Like all vaccines, there are risks involved in vaccination, and the vaccine is not a 100-percent guarantee against infection. Your veterinarian can best evaluate whether this vaccine is right for your cat.

As with any infectious disease, the best prevention is eliminating sources of exposure. Routine FLV testing and keeping your cat indoors and away from cats whose FLV status is the best way to prevent your cat from becoming infected. 





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *