Feline Leukemia Does Not Have to Be a Death Sentence

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is the second leading cause of death in cats, killing 85% of infected cats within three years of diagnosis. The virus affects the cat’s blood, causing various blood diseases.  It also suppresses the cat’s immune system, making it harder to protect against infection by bacteria, viruses or fungi found in our everyday environment that wouldn’t affect healthy cats.  However, feline leukemia does not have to be a death sentence; about 70% of cats who encounter the virus are able to resist infection or eliminate the virus on their own.

How is the virus transmitted?

The virus is transmitted through direct contact from cat to cat.  It only affects cats and cannot be passed to people or other animals.  The primary route of transmission is through saliva and nasal secretions, but it is also present in the urine and feces of infected cats.  Cat-to-cat transfer can occur through bite wounds, but also through grooming.  The virus only lives outside its host for a few hours, and because of this, transference through shared use of litter boxes and food dishes is not as common, but it can occur.

Which cats are affected?

Cats living with infected cats, or with cats with an unknown infection status, are at the greatest risk for contracting the virus, which is why it’s important to always get a new cat tested before exposing her to your exisiting feline family members.  Kittens and young adults are more susceptible than older cats, it appears that resistance to the virus increases with age.

Symptoms

Infected cats show one or more of the following symptoms:

– pale gums
– yellow color in the mouth and whites of eyes
– enlarged lymph nodes
– bladder, skin, or upper respiratory infections
– kidney disease
– weight loss and/or loss of appetite
– poor coat condition
– recurring or chronic illness
– progressive weakness and lethargy
– fever
– diarrhea
– breathing difficulty

Diagnosis

FeLV is diagnosed through a blood test called an ELISA test, which tests for the presence of FeLV antigens in the blood.  This test is highly sensitive and can identify cats with very early infections. Many of these cats will manage to clear the infection within a few months and will subsequently test negative.  A second blood test called IFA detects the second phase of the infection, and the majority of cats with positive results for this test remain infected for life and have a poorer long-term prognosis.

Treatment

There is currently no cure for feline leukemia, and in the past, euthanasia was usually recommended for these cats.  85% of cats infected die within three years of diagnosis, but with regular veterinary check ups and preventive health care, these cats can live with good quality of life for quite some time.

A healthy diet is a requirement as a good foundation.  Conventional veterinary wisdom suggests that feeding a raw diet to immunocompromised cats is contra-indicated due to the potential risk of bacteria or parasites in the diet; however, many holistic veterinarians now recommend a raw diet.   If raw feeding exceeds yours or your vet’s comfort level, a grain-free canned diet is the next best thing.  Other holistic approaches such as high doses of vitamin C, homeopathic remedies or Chinese Herbs can help boost the cat’s immune system.

Conventional medical treatment may include steroids, antiviral drugs such as interferon, chemotherapy drugs, and blood transfusions.  Steroids are used to potentially decrease the number of cancerous lymphocytes in the blood, but since they can also depress the immune system, they may make the cat vulnerable to other diseases.   Antiviral agents may reduce the amount of virus present in the blood of the cat, and they are easier on the body than chemotherapy.  All of these treatments will require assessing the risks of the treatment versus the benefits, and they can put a cat in remission, but will not get rid of the virus.

Prevention and protection

Keeping your cat indoors is the only way to completely protect your cat from the feline leukemia virus.  Outdoor cats and indoor/outdoor cats should be vaccinated with a non-adjuvanted leukemia vaccine to minimize the risk of injection site sarcomas.  New cats or kittens over eight weeks of age should be tested before being introduced into a multicat household.

A positive feline leukemia test does not have to be a death sentence.  Some cats may clear the virus themselves, and for others, proper care can lead to good quality of life for many years.

Photo by Kim Newberg, Public Domain Pictures

63 Comments on Feline Leukemia Does Not Have to Be a Death Sentence

  1. BWilliams
    August 6, 2017 at 7:38 pm (1 year ago)

    Have a 13 year old male. He will not eat much at all and has become skin and bones. He has lost so much weight, its scary. Took him to vet and she said (from looking at one x-ray) that he had alot of fluid built up. He is skin and bones but has puffy pot belly. I did not have the extra money for the test so she said its either cancer or leukemia. He will still jump on my bed, he wants attention, but barely eats anything so I feed him with syringe and I give him the meds she gave me which is something for pain and the Prednisone which I saw where someone said to not give any steroids so maybe I should stop that. I was thinking of giving him Vitamin C or D3 or some other vitamins? I’m just not sure what to do or buy. Was wondering if anyone had any suggestions as to what I can buy like from 1800-pets or wherever. Any advice?

    Reply
    • Vidar Goth
      November 9, 2017 at 2:51 pm (11 months ago)

      The cure for feline leukemia and FIV:

      Sub-cutaneous consecutive injections (loose skin in neck) for three days:

      Protocol: ( for normal size cat 8-12 lbs)

      Items: Pharmeceutical Grade sodium ascorbate. You can buy online at various places, ebay, amazon, etc.

      40ml vial with septa cap is best (can draw with needle through septa)

      about 20 insuline needles with small (30 GA) 3/8″ needle (others will work, but smaller the better)

      In 20 ml. of distilled water mix 5 grams of sodium ascorbate. dissolve completely (may take some time and several shakes)

      This makes a 25% sodium ascorbate solution.

      For first 6 hours inject 1.0 ml. of 25% solution every 2 hours. start- first injection, 2 hours = 2nd injection, 4 hours = 3rd injection, 6hours = 4th injection

      then repeat injections every 4 hours until a full 3 days of injections.

      During the first few hours your cat will have an immune reponse (some call this a herx reaction, but I believe it is an immune response)

      Cat will get chills and fever will go very high, but let this run it’s course and continue injections. Fever will drop after several hours and within 12 hours will be low fever or no fever.

      Continue injection for the remaining part of 3 day period.

      At the end of this protocol your cat should be completely free of the virus.

      It is difficult on some cats because they don’t like the injections. But it is worth the effort.

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        November 10, 2017 at 6:04 am (11 months ago)

        As per our comment guidelines, we cannot verify the veracity or accuracy of information or recommendations provided in reader comments. While there is much information about high dose vitamin C treatments for humans, there’s no information on how it affects cats. I do not recommend following this protocol without veterinary supervision.

        Reply
      • melquiz@yahoo.com
        May 11, 2018 at 5:59 pm (4 months ago)

        I do not quite understand the dosage as you indicate 1.0ml of 25% solution. Is that the amount for each injection or the total amount for the first 6 hours. I am confused as a 30 ga. insulin syrine will not hold 1.0 ml. Please claify. Thanks

        Reply
      • melquiz@yahoo.com
        May 11, 2018 at 6:25 pm (4 months ago)

        I am trying to reach you for more clarification for your treatment with vit c. please respond below. thanks

        Reply
      • Melody Quick
        May 14, 2018 at 2:02 pm (4 months ago)

        Vidar, I need better instructions for the sodium ascrobate injecton. Is it 1.0 or 1.0 for each injection? Please let me know as I am waiting on the answer. Thank you

        Reply
    • Rebecca Beale
      November 10, 2017 at 10:33 am (11 months ago)

      I don’t know. I wish I did. The vet was in Baytown, TX and has since retired, but another vet took over his practice. I’m not sure if the vet that told me this is still living. He specialized in cats.

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        November 10, 2017 at 1:33 pm (11 months ago)

        As per our comment guidelines, we cannot verify the veracity or accuracy of information or recommendations provided in reader comments. It’s important to remember that many of these so-called cures are based on one person’s or one cat’s experience. These types of regimens should always be run by a veterinarian before administering. A holistically oriented vet will be able to evaluate these types of remedies and advise you as to whether it’s indicated for your cat.

        Reply
    • angel
      November 22, 2017 at 4:32 pm (10 months ago)

      Hi, what kind of sodium ascorbate can i use? because the ones im looking at, contains a lot of sodium

      Reply
    • TheCatWhisperer
      May 14, 2018 at 11:47 am (4 months ago)

      Can you email me about this Vitamin C cure? Thanks R e a l c a t w h I s p er er at g m a I l

      Reply
  2. William Wales
    May 12, 2017 at 7:22 pm (1 year ago)

    Great page. I have rescued over a hundred cats and now only have 65 left. I have one now that is three yrs old with leukemia and he doesn’t eat on his own but will take a syringe of food. He is a friend’s cat and she is poor and so I said that I would try to get him to remission. I guess I’ll try steroids along with some herbs and vitamin C.

    thanks for all the great info !!!

    Reply
    • Carrie Beth Jaske
      May 13, 2017 at 11:46 am (1 year ago)

      Don’t use steroids there is a high risk of death with the steroids. As soon as my vet gave the steroids all my Felv cats got worse and sicker then death

      Reply
    • Pilar
      July 19, 2017 at 11:03 am (1 year ago)

      William. Make sure you use pure ascorbic acid crystals, no bioflavonoids. Add vitamin D3 and all the essential B vitamins, food-grown, not synthetics, but at a pinch methylcyanocobalamin will do. I have used these ten vitamins, I also have rescued about a hundred cats and this has worked with coronavirus.

      Reply
      • Carrie
        July 19, 2017 at 9:00 pm (1 year ago)

        I give my 6 yr old male Felv positive Cat B12 Complex injections every 7 days, and Now Sub Q fluids every other day for his kidneys. High Calorie Gel Supplement too.

        Reply
      • SwampMama
        July 20, 2017 at 10:16 am (1 year ago)

        Sodium ascorbate is less likely to cause GI distress in our FELV cats due to its neutral PH vs the acidic PH in ascorbic acid. If your already dealing with an immune compromised kitty and kidney issues, diarrhea will further dehydrate your cat. Just a thought.

        Long term/continuous Sodium ascorbate treatmeant can convert a positive to a negative. Look into Dr. Belfield’s research. He was well ahead of his time. Good luck!!! My guy was diagnosed 4 years ago, and he’s still happily annoying my dog 🙂

        Reply
        • Melody Quick
          May 14, 2018 at 2:05 pm (4 months ago)

          I am trying to get the correct dosage for the sodium ascorbate treatment. I need to know if it is 1.0 or 0.1 for each dose. It was really unclear. thank you

          Reply
  3. melanie
    December 24, 2016 at 3:13 am (2 years ago)

    My cat passed away today 23rd December 2016 from this virus. It was quick. Many blood transfusions and medication. I did not get him vaccinated. He is an indoor car with his sister who is not infected. He died at 1 year 4 months. Get you kitten or early adult cat vaccinated. My boy we have no idea how he got it and it is the most horrible thing seeing your fury best friend go through treatment and medication for this horrible disease.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 24, 2016 at 6:19 am (2 years ago)

      I’m so sorry, Melanie.

      Reply
    • Donna
      January 1, 2017 at 10:06 pm (2 years ago)

      So sorry for
      you loss and your baby’s suffering.

      Reply
    • Siela
      March 9, 2017 at 1:16 pm (2 years ago)

      Vaccinations don’t work there is no proof that they do and could even be CAUSING this disease don’t vaccinate it LOWERS natural immunity.

      Reply
      • liz
        May 11, 2018 at 12:08 pm (4 months ago)

        Thats not true, I have positive and negative cats, all negatives are vaccinated and are in perfect health. they are routinely retested by IFA and still negative

        Reply
  4. Rebecca Beale
    June 20, 2016 at 2:51 pm (2 years ago)

    There is a cure for Feline Leukemia. When my cat had it in 1993, a vet that specialized in cats, told me that there had been a drug that would put the leukemia in remission, but the FDA took it off the market because people that had leukemia were trying the drug on themselves. Since I have another cat that has FIV and FeLV, I wonder what I can do about it. I’ll start researching again and see if I can get it brought back up in the legislative realm. It really makes me angry that there is a “cure,” but it is no longer available.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 20, 2016 at 4:21 pm (2 years ago)

      I have never heard of this, Rebecca. What is the name of this drug?

      Reply
    • Diane Hurley
      September 21, 2016 at 12:09 pm (2 years ago)

      Yes I would like to know also.

      Reply
    • Reem
      February 22, 2017 at 11:33 pm (2 years ago)

      were you able to find anything

      Reply
  5. Cynthia Taylor
    October 13, 2015 at 1:33 pm (3 years ago)

    Less than a wee ago I had to say good-by to two sweet FelV babies I was fostering…They had been taken to a shelter with their injured feral mother…She apparently had been hit by a car and had a shattered leg….Tested…she was positive and euthanized…I took the sweet babies and they had another five weeks of life…..all I could do…..so sad….

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 13, 2015 at 3:46 pm (3 years ago)

      I’m so sorry, Cynthia. It’s always hard to lose a cat, but when they’re still babies, it’s devastating.

      Reply
  6. Kim
    August 28, 2015 at 4:49 pm (3 years ago)

    my cat Willow almost died. she was so weak from lukeimia and had fallen 3 stories! her itchy ears were a sign the vet did not cath. i went to another vet.they gave her 24 hours to live. we went to the emergency room and they gave her steroids. a year later, she is in full remission! and off steroids! i prayed to Saint Francis Assisi and lots of love saved us!

    Reply
    • Nancy
      November 27, 2015 at 5:53 pm (3 years ago)

      My 4 month old kitten (Kit) was tested on October 16th and the test was negative. Two days ago I felt swollen lymph nodes. Ran her in and they reran the test and it was positive. I have 4 other cats (with a good immune system) who need to be tested within the next 2 weeks. Kit is eating very good, and playing. However, she is anemic and WBCs are all low. I am trying to strengthen her immune system with B12, B Complex, and Moxxor (an omega 3 that comes from the green lipped mussel, which I sell). The meds she is on are: Clavamox, Orabax, Onsior, 50 mls of fluids per night. I, too, will be praying to St. Francis! Please keep my baby girl in your prayers as well as my other 4, that they are negative and can receive the vaccine. Thank you!

      Reply
      • TheCatWhisperer
        June 8, 2016 at 11:52 am (2 years ago)

        Try to get RetroMAD1 its an antiviral that will kill FeLV, FIV, FIP, FIV, and others in the blood. Its not holistic its a real antiviral that works without any side effects. It saved my kitten who the veterinarians said wouldn’t make it past 10 days. That was 2 years ago =-)

        Reply
        • Name*
          March 3, 2017 at 4:23 pm (2 years ago)

          How were you able to get the medication? I haven’t been able to find a vet who offers it and I’m desperate to help my cat who was just diagnosed

          Reply
          • TheCatWhisperer
            March 4, 2017 at 4:44 pm (2 years ago)

            Where are you located? You need to think way outside the box than your local Vet. There’s lots of things you can do to help your cat that your Vet wont even think of. You can use Raltegravir (Isentress) A human HIV drug proven to inhibit FeLV. Don’t let your Vet tell you he cant get it because my cat is on it and I have several compounding pharmacies that will make it for you. Next is RetroMAD1 which is not an American drug so your Vet wont know about it. You can import a 3 months supply and it will both inhibit and kill FeLV, FIV, and most other retroviruses. Contact Daniel in Malaysia (yup the country) and he will send you RetroMAD1.
            Daniel at daniel.lu@biovalence.com.my
            Any questions feel free to ask. Oh and I get my cat blood work every month and none of these medication are toxic.

          • Jennifer
            June 12, 2017 at 11:19 pm (1 year ago)

            Hi how much is the 3 month supply of retroMAD1? From Malaysia? It would be wonderful if it helps!

          • carla
            March 29, 2018 at 2:30 pm (6 months ago)

            Hi…
            I am from Portugal..
            My cat is FELV +… there is no hope!!! I found you in the net and there is a mail , daniel.lu from Malasia, but I don´t get the whole mail .
            Can you send it to me please.. carlasousa64@gmail.com

            Thank you very much.

  7. Kimberly
    December 11, 2014 at 2:09 am (4 years ago)

    My cat was diagnosed 8 weeks ago. She was given 24 hours to a few months to live. She is doing well on steroids. Her mother was not vaccinated. She is only a year 1/2. She is my Emotional support animal. I’m definitely giving her more love before she goes but I hope that she could live as long as possible

    Reply
  8. April
    November 28, 2014 at 11:13 pm (4 years ago)

    So thankful for this article! My husband found a 15 week old kitten Wednesday and took him into bet today and he tested positive for FELV. I am beyond heart broken and also so confused and frustrated.. I have 5 other cats and they want me to confine him in a room by himself for the rest of his life. What kind of life is that for him? I also have people telling me I should put him to sleep. I don’t want to do that. He is the sweetest baby.

    Reply
    • Carrie
      August 28, 2015 at 12:20 pm (3 years ago)

      New treatment T-Cyte. I had 5 cats with Feline leukemia. They only live 2-3 yrs max for sure. All mine have died and lived 2 yrs except
      For 1. So he is the healthiest, but I am taking him to a new vet for T-cyte treatment. You can google it and read more about
      It. I have been very emotional and stressed out over this there is No cure for this disease, but u may prolong years to their life with this new treatment. The cats that died developed white gums
      (Anemia) and slow breathing, and death. Happens so fast literally overnight. If cat has any upper respiratory infections and or any infection and is left
      Untreated the cancer will start and kill the cat.

      Reply
        • liz
          May 11, 2018 at 12:11 pm (4 months ago)

          My cat just completed her 4th tcyte injection and no luck yet. We are going for 6 injections. My vet also wants to add IV Immunuglobulin. Anyone used that before?

          Reply
          • TheCatWhisperer
            May 11, 2018 at 12:15 pm (4 months ago)

            try using Raltegravir it will lower the viral count.

          • angel
            May 11, 2018 at 2:37 pm (4 months ago)

            Go with sodium ascorbate (vitamin c) Intravenous inmediatly or at least sub cutaneous injections of a 25% solution it will work perfectly in armony with the LTCI! mine went from 8% hematocrit to fully recovered and now he is a negative!

    • TheCatWhisperer
      June 8, 2016 at 11:53 am (2 years ago)

      Try to get RetroMAD1 its an antiviral that will kill FeLV, FIV, FIP, FIV, and others in the blood. Its not holistic its a real antiviral that works without any side effects. It saved my kitten who the veterinarians said wouldn’t make it past 10 days. That was 2 years ago =-)
      How can Anemia be prevented? Is there a supplement that helps keep it at bay?

      Reply
    • SwampMama74
      July 19, 2017 at 1:43 am (1 year ago)

      One of my TNR cats was diagnosed 4 years ago. I have been using a high quality diet and high dose sodium ascorbate vis Dr. Belfield’s Protocols (remission).

      He is currently 10 years old, and still going strong.

      Reply
  9. Joan Esposito
    April 1, 2014 at 3:12 pm (4 years ago)

    Thanks so much, I feel better now, my 12 yr old cat Niki has a rare leukemia, granuloctic or something.. but it is prob the same thing, she seems fine, except weight loss and drinking lots of water due to kidneys going slowly..Doc gave her a steroid, which made her crazy and then weak after few days, then back to normal, dont think its good for her..so doing good food and holistic stuff for cancer which is helping..

    Reply
    • diane abernathy
      June 14, 2017 at 8:16 pm (1 year ago)

      ask your vet about doing sub-q fluids at home, you can order them on line and its about $12 a bag.
      you can also order thete great needles from the UK that are much slimer and are pre-lubed and deliver the same amount of fluids that the big fat green ones deliver.
      At the vets office where i worked that called to kitty torpedos.
      i will get the info on wrbsite, exactly the right needle, etc.
      these needled made it so easy for me to administer fluids myself at home. so much cheaper and better for the kitty

      Reply
  10. Marie
    June 24, 2013 at 12:25 pm (5 years ago)

    My new kitty about 10 months old was diagnosed with feline luk. He will be an indoor kitty and an only kitty.

    What can I do to keep him healthy. I am feeding him boiled chicken and brown rice.

    Is this OK?

    Please advise.

    Thank you………Marie

    Reply
  11. Linda
    June 24, 2012 at 2:32 am (6 years ago)

    My mother had cats who tested positive for FeLV who lived for over ten years. She also had a “double positive” (FeLV and Fiv) who lived well beyond three years.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 24, 2012 at 7:00 am (6 years ago)

      FeLV doesn’t have to be a death sentence, Linda, and your mother’s cats sure are proof of that!

      Reply
    • sally
      July 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm (6 years ago)

      My darling cat is now 12 and has had Feline Leukemia since she was a kitten.
      She has been drinking amethyst water, as she prefers it to her water bowl and has been so loved and surrounded by healing stones.

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        July 29, 2012 at 3:04 pm (6 years ago)

        That’s so interesting that your cat intuitively prefers the amethyst water, Sally.

        Reply
  12. heidi herren
    June 23, 2012 at 2:00 pm (6 years ago)

    Great info! Thanks for educating and saving some lives!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 23, 2012 at 6:45 pm (6 years ago)

      I’m glad the post was helpful, Heidi.

      Reply
  13. Ingrid
    November 1, 2010 at 2:58 pm (8 years ago)

    Thanks for posting the link to your article, JaneA.

    Marg, infection from sharing litter boxes and sharing the same space is not as likely as direct contact with saliva or nasal secretions due to the short lifespan of the virus outside its host, but it’s still possible.

    Angie, I’m glad you found the article helpful.

    Thanks, Layla.

    Reply
  14. Layla Morgan Wilde
    November 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm (8 years ago)

    Informative as always and knowledge is power. Addressing the scary or unpleasant is a gift of the blogging community.

    Reply
  15. Angie, Catladyland/Katt Food
    November 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm (8 years ago)

    This is great, Ingrid. I have to admit that until fairly recently, I didn’t know a whole lot about this disease. I’m so grateful to be connected with a cat blogging community that values education and shares their knowledge!

    Reply
  16. Marg
    November 1, 2010 at 11:27 am (8 years ago)

    Great information. I had several cats that were really sick with the virus and we put them down but none of the others got it that lived around them. We tested and tested for a long time. So I guess it doesn’t get passed as easily as everyone thinks. I guess that if one with it and one without it live in the same room, using the same litter etc, then there is a good chance the one without, will get it. Thanks for this good post.

    Reply
  17. JaneA
    November 1, 2010 at 6:55 am (8 years ago)

    I’m so glad you wrote this article. People get terribly scared when they hear that their cat is FeLV-positive, but as you said, it does not have to be a death sentence.

    I wrote an article on Paws and Effect which also gives information on FeLV that could complement your information here, if you’d like to check it out. Thanks again!

    http://www.paws-and-effect.com/2009/03/29/my-cat-has-leukemia-what-can-i-do-to-keep-her-healthy-and-strong/

    Reply

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