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Can a cat recover from Feline Leukemia?

When you adopt a cat there are lots of things to consider. Cats need proper care and attention to ensure a happy and healthy life. 

Even with the best care, there are illnesses that cats are prone to. One of those being feline leukemia. It is extremely scary for a cat owner to have their cat diagnosed with feline leukemia.

The first thing that runs through the mind of someone who gets this unhappy news is the question: Is it possible for a cat to recover from feline leukemia?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for feline leukemia. However, the good news is with proper management, a cat plagued with the virus may live for many years. 

Can a cat recover from feline leukemia?

Feline leukemia is the second leading cause of death in cats. Knowing this and getting the news that your cat has feline leukemia is not easy news to bear.

It’s especially hard knowing that there is no known cure for this virus. Even though there is no cure for feline leukemia, it doesn’t mean a diagnosed cat is bound to live a short life.

Cats diagnosed with this virus can live for many years after contracting it. 

The first thing to consider is the age of the cat. Unfortunately, if a kitten were to contract feline leukemia it isn’t easy for it to fight the virus.

Many kittens that get this virus don’t make it to their second birthday. Even with a short life expectancy, a kitten can still have an enjoyable time with whatever time they have left.

An adult cat has a more developed immune system. Therefore, an adult is better equipped to fight the virus with medications and regular vet visits. 

Recovery means to get back to a normal and healthy state present before an illness. Although a cat with this virus can remain relatively healthy, there is only a very slim chance the virus can be eliminated completely.

Even so, a cat can live their whole life without contracting any feline leukemia-related illnesses. Simply by managing it.

What is feline leukemia and how is it spread?

What Is Feline Leukemia

With the name “feline leukemia” many people are left with the impression that feline leukemia is a form of cancer. Feline leukemia also known as FeLV is unlike the blood cancer humans can contract.

It is actually a virus that attacks a cat’s immune system. It is an extremely contagious retrovirus. However, only felines can contact this virus, hence the name.

Even though feline leukemia is not cancer it can result in secondary infections and certain cancers. 

The risk of an outdoor cat contracting feline leukemia is high since it is so contagious. The virus can be spread through saliva, blood, secretions of the nose, urine, and feces.

Feline leukemia can also spread easily through everyday sharing of objects like food bowls and litter boxes, as well as grooming, bites, and scratches.

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It can also be passed on through a mother cat by nursing her kitten or may potentially develop in the womb. A cat that is positive for feline leukemia can spread the virus by doing something as simple as drinking from the same bowl as another cat. 

Diagnosing Feline Leukemia 

Feline leukemia can be diagnosed at the vet’s office by a simple blood test. This blood test is called ELISA. ELISA stands for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The ELISA test is designed to find traces of FeLV protein in a cat’s blood.

The good thing about ELISA is that it can pick up early infections in cats. Another test is also used for detecting the virus. If a cat tests positive on an ELISA test, an IFA test is performed.

IFA stands for indirect immunofluorescent antibody assay. The IFA is used to figure out what phase of the infection a cat has reached and if they are at a later stage.

IFA is also used to confirm that a cat has contracted feline leukemia. Unlike the ELISA test, the IFA is sent out to a laboratory to be completed.

Unfortunately, if a cat tests positive on an IFA test, it is likely because the virus has advanced. 

Stages of Infection

Once a cat tests positive for feline leukemia, there are different directions based on its progression. 

Abortive Infections

There are cases that a cat will contract the virus and their immune system will be able to fight it off. If their immune system is strong enough, the virus will be completely eliminated from the cat’s body.

An abortive infection can happen however, it is extremely rare. It can only take place before the virus has integrated with the cat’s DNA.

Regressive Infections

A regressive infection is when a cat’s immune system is able to fight the virus out of the bloodstream. However, in these cases, the FelV DNA is still present in the body.

That DNA is carried in a cat’s bone marrow. During this stage of infection, cats are not able to pass on the virus to other cats. Even so, if the virus is reactivated later in life they will be able to pass on the virus.

An estimated 10% of cases of feline leukemia are regressive infections.

Progressive Infections

Progressive infections are cases where the FeLV traces are in the bloodstream. Cats with progressive infections may show signs and symptoms, and develop secondary infections. In these cases, cats are contagious and can spread the virus to other cats.


Treatment and Prevention

Since there is not an active cure for feline leukemia, there isn’t a set treatment plan. Even so, managing the virus and preventing secondary illness can give cats lots of relief.

Medications are prescribed to manage the illnesses that arise with feline leukemia. For example, antibiotics can be prescribed to help fight bacterial infections.

As well as blood transfusions for cats suffering from extreme anemia. Providing a cat with good, healthy foods can help to provide the nutrients they need.

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Using calming aids helps cats deal with anxiety and stress. It’s also important to stay up-to-date with the most current information regarding the virus in case there are any developments.

Cats that have feline leukemia should have two physical exams a year. Lab testing can help with managing the illness by catching any problems that may arise.

Cats that contract cancer can undergo chemotherapy for treatment. Spaying and neutering a FeLV-positive cat and keeping them indoors to prevent the spread of the virus to other cats. 


There are methods to help prevent your cat from getting feline leukemia. The best way to prevent a cat from contracting FeLV is to keep them indoors!

If they aren’t in contact with any other cats this eliminates the chances of them getting the virus. Another form of prevention is receiving the feline leukemia vaccine for a cat.

The vaccine is designed to protect against the virus. However, it’s important to know that the vaccine is not a guarantee that a cat won’t get the virus.

Like any vaccine, the FeLV shot is not 100% effective. Revaccination of the vaccine is recommended by vets for a lasting effect.

Symptoms of Feline Leukemia 

Being highly contagious it’s smart to know the symptoms of feline leukemia. Something to note is a cat that recently contracted the virus may not show any signs or symptoms.

Symptoms Of Feline Leukemia

However, over time cat owners may notice a decline in health. Symptoms may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Poor coat condition
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Pale gums
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Yellowness in the whites of the eyes or the mouth
  • Infections of the skin, bladder, or upper respiratory 
  • Reproductive issues with unspayed females
  • Avoiding the litter box
  • Seizures
  • Uneven pupils

If you notice any of these signs in your cat, seek out a veterinarian to test your cat for feline leukemia. 


Feline leukemia is one of the leading causes of death in cats. Despite this scary fact, a cat contracting the virus isn’t a death sentence.

In some cases, if the immune system is strong enough, a cat can fight the virus off completely. However, those cases are very rare.

Even so, cats may live many happy years after being diagnosed. With proper management, a cat with feline leukemia can live an enjoyable life!

There are different paths in which the virus can go. Not all cases are the same. Feline leukemia is extremely contagious.

So the best form of prevention is to keep your cat away from FeLV-positive cats. A vaccine is available to help protect cats that do not have the virus.

There are lots of symptoms that may occur in FeLV-positive cats. If you suspect your cat has contracted the virus, it’s very important to contact your vet.

Don’t shy away from adopting a cat that has feline leukemia, they still have lots to offer!