Should a Cat With Feline Leukemia Be Put Down?


You’ve been told that your beloved cat has feline leukemia. What do you do? Should a cat with feline leukemia be put down? Feline leukemia is a severe illness, but it doesn’t mean that your cat will automatically die. Many cats with this disease can live long and happy lives with proper care. This article addresses feline leukemia, how to take care of a cat with this condition, and how long it can live.

What Is Feline Leukemia?

Feline leukemia is the most common form of cancer in cats caused by a retrovirus called feline leukemia virus (FeLV). This virus attacks the cat’s immune system, making it difficult to fight off infection and disease. Feline leukemia can be deadly, but many cats with this condition can live long and healthy lives if given proper care.

A cat with feline leukemia can show a wide variety of symptoms and health issues, including:

  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Pale gums
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Yellow color in the mouth and whites of eyes
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Problems with bladder and skin
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Oral ulcers

If you think your cat may have feline leukemia, it’s crucial to take it to the vet for testing immediately. Two tests are used to diagnose this condition: a blood test and a bone marrow biopsy.

A bone marrow biopsy is the most accurate way to diagnose feline leukemia. This test involves taking a small sample of bone marrow from the cat and testing it for the existence of FeLV. The blood test looks for the presence of FeLV, which typically gives a reliable FeLV prognosis but can sometimes give false-positive results.

DID YOU KNOW? 70% of cats that become infected with the virus are either immune or can eliminate the virus independently.

Is Feline Leukemia Contagious?

FeLVis spread by cats’ saliva, blood, or urine. It can also be transmittable through direct contact, such as sharing food and water bowls or grooming each other. And kittens born with feline leukemia indicate that it was transmitted by their mother in the womb or later during breastfeeding. But not all cats that are exposed to the virus become sick. It’s also important to note that FeLV is not contagious to humans. It’s a feline-only virus.

Should a Cat With Feline Leukemia Be Put Down?

The decision to put down your cat with a positive FeLV test is a distressing one that cat owners should make in consultation with their veterinarian. Some feel that a cat with feline leukemia should be put down to prevent the spread of the disease. Others think that one can live a long and happy life. The decision, of course, is ultimately up to the owner.

While feline leukemia is a severe illness, your cat can have a good immune response and live a few more years if given proper treatment. On the other hand, if your cat has developed progressive FeLV infection and started developing FeLV-related diseases—such as lymphoma or anemia—perhaps the best option is to put it down. If you’re considering putting down your cat, it’s essential to talk to your vet to discuss all of your options and check what your pet insurance covers.

DID YOU KNOW? On average, 2 to 3% of cats in the US are infected with FeLV.

How to Take Care of a Cat With Feline Leukemia

If you notice signs of feline leukemia in your cat, and it’s known to test positive, it’s vital to talk to your veterinarian about the best way to care for it. There isn’t a comprehensive approach to caring for a cat with this condition, but there are some (following) guidelines you can pursue.

Preventive Healthcare

Keeping your cat healthy and strong can prevent and help fight disease. Your cat’s nutrition is essential when it comes to health. Ensure the food you’re giving your cat (young or old) is packed with all the necessary nutrition that a feline needs and that it has the needed physical activity.

When caring for a FeLV-positive cat, introducing cat CBD oils such as Endopet, for example, can give your cat’s immune system a boost. Spaying and neutering your cat can also help eliminate and build resistance to some diseases. If you notice any uncommon symptoms or behavior, make sure you take your feline friend to the vet for a check-up.


The FeLV vaccine—approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)—has been around since 1985. The vaccine may prevent signs of FeLV disease and the virus itself. After the vaccination for FeLV, cats exposed to FeLV show proviral DNA of the virus in their bodies, but it’s not an active infection; the virus should not replicate or infect the cat.

As with any vaccination, there are some FeLV vaccine side effects:

  • Pain or swelling in the leg (vaccine should be given in the left rear leg)
  • Reduced activity, granuloma (non-cancerous growth from chronic inflammation)
  • In rare cases, cats can develop injection-site sarcomas—a severe invasive form of skin cancer not easily treated.

Flea Treatment

Flea treatment is vital for cats with leukemia because fleas can transmit other diseases, which can be deadly for a weakened immune system. Fleas can transmit the disease from one cat to another—so it’s essential to keep your cat free of fleas. Since feline leukemia in cats weakens their immune system, it’s necessary to talk to your vet for safe and effective products for flea treatment.

Vet Check-ups

Regular vet check-ups are essential for cats—especially for felines with leukemia—because your vet can closely monitor your cat’s health and comfort and ensure they get the care they need despite having FeLV. Cat owners should have their FeLV-positive kitten seen by a veterinarian at least every six months or more often as needed.

Key Takeaways

The FeLV virus attacks the cat’s immune system, making it difficult to fight off infection and disease.
On average, 2 to 3% of cats in the US are infected with FeLV.
Providing preventive healthcare, flea control, regular vet check-ups, and FeLV vaccines are the most common ways of caring for a cat with leukemia.
Indoor cats infected with the FeLV virus can live up to three years.

How Long Can a Cat Live With Feline Leukemia?

The average life of an indoor cat with FeLV is about three years. Some cats, however, can live much longer if they receive good medical care and their owners are vigilant in monitoring their health. Outdoor cats typically don’t live as long because they’re more exposed to other diseases and predators.

But a cat with a leukemia life expectancy of three years is difficult to predict—it all depends on the cat’s health and response to treatment. Some may only have a short time to live after diagnosis, while others could enjoy several years of good health.


Feline leukemia is a severe virus that can be deadly for cats. But with early detection and proper treatment, many cats can enjoy a good quality of life for several years. It’s crucial to work closely with a veterinarian to create a care plan that’s right for your cat. Ultimately, the decision to euthanize a cat with FeLV or obtain treatment for feline leukemia in cats rests with the pet owners. When making this difficult decision, there are many aspects to consider, such as quality of life and care expenses. No one can predict how long a cat with leukemia will live, but with proper care, most cats can enjoy a good life for some time after diagnosis.


How to tell if a cat has feline leukemia?

Cats with FeLV may experience a wide range of symptoms, such as weight loss, poor appetite, lethargy, fever, swollen lymph nodes, or oral ulcers. If you’ve noticed these changes in your cat, visit your veterinary office ASAP. Your veterinarian can perform a physical exam and take a blood sample to test for FeLV in cats. They may also recommend a bone marrow biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

How to care for a cat with feline leukemia?

Cats with FeLV typically require more medical care than those without the virus. Cat caregivers should expect to spend more on vet bills, medications, and other treatments. They may also need to make lifestyle changes, such as keeping their cat indoors to protect cats from other diseases, regular checkups, and vaccinations. If your pet is in pain, you may ask yourself: Should a cat with feline leukemia be put down? Talk to your vet and decide if your cat needs treatment or euthanized.

How common is feline leukemia?

Feline leukemia is the most common viral disease in cats. It affects an estimated two to three percent of all cats in the US. Outdoor cats, unneutered males, and those with other diseases are more at risk of contracting the disease.


When she couldn’t decide between being a nurse, a psychotherapist, and a financial genius, Ofelia decided to do all three. Her interests run far and wide, and she loves researching about everything you get to read on our website. Credit cards or top-notch software, she’s here to tell it all like it is.

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