Know the Signs: How to Spot Feline Leukemia

Posted by Allie Layos
cat in the dark

It is vital to recognize the red flags of this dangerous feline disease.

Despite its name, feline leukemia is not a blood disease but a moderately contagious viral infection that is most commonly transmitted through a cat's saliva. It is a leading cause of death in cats, second only to trauma, killing 85 percent of persistently infected cats within three years of diagnosis.

Because the stakes are so high, it is important that owners recognize the symptoms of this virus, for the health of their own cats and the safety of others.

While there is no cure for feline leukemia, exposure isn't necessarily a death sentence. In fact, most cats (about 70 percent) that encounter the virus are able to resist the infection or eliminate the virus on their own.

For the remaining 30 percent, however, recognizing the signs of infection can be crucial, and those signs can vary greatly because the virus can affect almost any organ system in the cat's body.

orange cat laying down

While something as simple as a cat's poor coat condition can be cause for alarm, more often it is weight loss, loss of appetite, weakness, or lethargy that owners notice.

There can be physical changes as well. Infected cats have been known to have pale gums, enlarged lymph nodes, and a yellow color in their mouths and the whites of their eyes. Other symptoms include bladder, skin or upper respiratory infections, fever, diarrhea, and breathing difficulty. Even reproductive problems can point to feline leukemia.

toilet cat Cleaning sand cat

Just because your cat is showing one of these symptoms doesn't mean your cat has contracted the virus, but it is probably a good idea to have your cat tested. If your cat does test positive, don't despair -- your vet may be able to help extend your cat's life through supportive care.

It's good news for cats, and the people who love them.

Has your cat ever showed these symptoms? How did you deal with it? Tell us in the comments below. 

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Know the Signs: How to Spot Feline Leukemia