Preventing Feline Leukemia Virus is better than a cure for cat lovers

Preventing Feline Leukemia Virus is better than a cure for cat lovers
Preventing Feline Leukemia Virus

Johannesburg, 1 July 2024 – The Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is one of the most widespread infectious diseases in cats. It can severely weaken a cat’s immune system, leading to a higher risk of infections and diseases and even causing cancer in cats. The virus can go unnoticed for some time and, unfortunately, there is no cure. However, vaccination can prevent FeLV, which is excellent news for cat lovers and owners.

“The transmission of Feline Leukemia Virus occurs mainly through communal contact between cats and via saliva. It can also be found in urine, faeces and milk,” says Dr Tarryn Dent, Business Unit Lead: Companion Animals at Zoetis South Africa, a global animal health company. “This contact can happen in various ways, such as grooming, fighting, sharing feeding dishes, or litter boxes. Kittens can also contract the virus in utero or while nursing from an infected mother,” says Dent.

Unfortunately, there are many risk factors that can expose cats to FeLV, including outdoor access, aggressive interactions with other cats, existing illnesses (like oral diseases), and being unneutered or not spayed.

Indoor cats are less likely to get FeLV, but the risk is not eliminated, especially if they interact with outdoor cats or those with unknown FeLV statuses, even through a screen door, in an enclosed patio, or roaming around a complex. Kittens are the most vulnerable to FeLV, which can lead to worsening symptoms over their lifetime.

Symptoms of FeLV may take a long time to manifest and can include:

  • Cancerous tumours and leukemia (cancer of the blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. It involves the white blood cells, which are essential for fighting infections)
  • Weight loss and decreased appetite
  • Poor fur condition
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever and pale gums
  • Mouth inflammation and infections in various body parts
  • Persistent diarrhea and neurological issues, among other symptoms

“It’s critical to consult a vet if your cat exhibits any symptoms,” says Dent. “Prevention is always better than the cure, or in this case, disease management, as there is no cure for Feline Leukemia Virus. FeLV testing is recommended for cats who are sick, being adopted, exposed to risk, or when their FeLV status is unknown. It’s a simple test that veterinarians perform using a small blood sample and cat owners can receive their results in as little as 20 minutes,” says Dent.

According to Dent, a positive result should be confirmed with a secondary laboratory test, and while FeLV can usually be detected in the blood within 30 days of exposure, cats that could have been exposed to FeLV should repeat the test after a few weeks.

“It’s important to know a cat’s status, because even though there is no cure, all hope is not lost,” says Dent. “Long term management focuses on the treatment of secondary diseases, which means preventative healthcare and prompt responses to any health issues is critical and can give cats a long, comfortable life. Veterinary check-ups should be done every six months as well.”

Fortunately, a vaccination is available for FeLV and is particularly recommended for kittens, outdoor cats, and those living in high-risk environments. “This is a preventable disease, and I would encourage all cat owners to discuss their vaccination options with their veterinarians,” says Dent.



A leading multi-national animal health company, Zoetis builds on more than 65 years of experience in animal health to research, develop, manufacture and commercialise medicines, vaccines and diagnostic products. Zoetis understands the deep connection between people and their pet and provides veterinarians with the resources needed to provide the highest quality of care and support, help improve the quality and extend the life of cats, dogs and horses and make it easier for owners to contribute towards the health and wellness of their companion animals. Zoetis produces vaccines, anti-infectives, parasiticides, dermatology products, animal health diagnostic and other pharmaceuticals.


Mantis Communications

Kerry Simpson

Email: [email protected]

Tel: 079 438 3252