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Cat with feline leukemia virus

Cat with feline leukemia virus

Q:A stray cat, whom we named Wanderer, adopted us. He seemed like a healthy cat, so when we took him to the veterinarian for testing, vaccination and neutering, we were surprised to learn that he has feline leukemia. How do we keep him in good condition?

A:Just over three percent of cats in the US and Canada are infected with the feline leukemia virus, which attacks the immune system. Antiviral medications are not effective against the feline leukemia virus, so at present, the disease can’t be cured.

Sometimes the virus overwhelms the immune system, and the cat dies within a few years of infection, anemia or a cancer such as lymphoma or leukemia. But often the cat’s immune system can keep the virus in check, and the cat lives a relatively normal life.

You can enhance Wanderer’s chances of living a long comfortable life if you:

  • Keep him indoors to decrease his risk of infection, parasites and injury.

  • Have your veterinarian examine him at least twice yearly and do lab work annually.

  • Keep his feline vaccinations current to protect him from preventable diseases.

  • Monitor his weight monthly, and ask your veterinarian to evaluate any unintentional weight loss.

  • Feed a diet of high quality animal protein that is low in carbohydrates. Don’t feed a raw meat diet, since many are contaminated with bacteria and parasites.

  • Prevent dental disease.If Wanderer refuses dry food or develops bad breath or red gums, contact your veterinarian.

Don’t add any new cats to the family, as the stress will be hard on Wanderer’s immune system, and a fight could cause a bite wound infection. Even if vaccinated, a new cat could become infected with Wanderer’s virus.


Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at askdrlee@insurefigo.com.

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