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Can a Cat with Feline Leukemia Live With Other Cats? Transmission & Signs

sick cat with feline disease
Image Credit: Kittima05, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Jordin Horn

Feline leukemia, or FeLV, is a virus that is the second leading cause of death in cats. It’s a serious condition that must be dealt with throughout an infected cat’s lifetime. Luckily, a vaccine that prevents cats from getting it is available, but the best prevention is to keep an infected cat away from other cats. It’s up to you, the infected cat’s owner, whether you want to risk putting other cats at risk of contracting the virus. In short, it’s not recommended.

However, there are many nuances that go into this question. If one cat in your household suddenly contracts it, what should you do with the rest? Or maybe you are looking into adopting a cat with feline leukemia to give it a good home. Whatever your situation, we will provide you with the information you need to help you make the best face divider 2

How Contagious is Feline Leukemia?

Feline leukemia is not considered a highly contagious virus, according to VCA Hospitals. This is because the virus does not live very long outside of a cat’s body.

The virus is mainly spread through close contact with other cats. There’s no doubt that feline leukemia is contagious and is spread primarily through a cat’s saliva and blood. It’s also spread through nasal secretions, feces, and an infected female cat’s milk. Though it is contagious among cats, the virus is exclusive to the species. No other animal or human can contract it.

Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Usually, cats who contract feline leukemia get it from fighting or grooming with another cat. The virus is most commonly transmitted through a cat bite.

Because cats get the virus with close contact with other cats, indoor cats that are the only cats in the home are the least likely to get feline leukemia. Outdoor cats who spend time with many other feline friends or cats who spend a lot of time at a boarding facility are more likely to contract the virus.

Can Feline Leukemia Be Transmitted Through…

  • Clothing?

The FeLV virus does not live very long outside the cat’s body, as few as a couple hours. Any surface, including clothing, will not transmit feline leukemia to other cats.

  • Water and Food Bowls?

Because the virus can be contracted through saliva, it’s possible to transmit feline leukemia through shared water or food bowls. It’s a good, preventative measure to keep separate cat water and food bowls in this situation. However, transmission like this doesn’t happen very often.

  • Shared Litter Boxes?

Since urine and feces carry the FeLV virus, the disease can be transmitted through shared litter boxes, but it is rare.

  • Fleas?

Another rare transmission can happen when fleas from a FeLV-infected cat bites a FeLV-negative cat. It’s way more likely that cats get the virus through other ways, but this can happen.

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What Are the First Signs of Feline Leukemia?

Cats who become infected with feline leukemia may show no signs at first. They could seem perfectly healthy for weeks or months but gradually deteriorate in health. Some cats will go through phases of illness and health in a repetitive cycle.

Besides what we just mentioned, the first signs to look out for in feline leukemia include:
  • Pale gums
  • Yellowing of the mouth and eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • A lackluster coat of fur
Other symptoms include:
  • Bladder, lymph, skin, and upper respiratory infections
  • Anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reproductive failure

Other conditions can arise when an aggressive form of feline leukemia is present. These conditions include lymphoma, a compromised immune system, and, in previously fertile cats, infertility and abortion.

Credit:, Shutterstock

Tests for Feline Leukemia

If your cat seems unwell, take them to the vet. Once there, the vet will give your cat one or possibly more tests to rule out feline leukemia.


The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test is the most common test for feline leukemia. It’s a blood test that detects FeLV particles in the bloodstream in the early and late stages of the infection. These tests can provide immediate results in the veterinary office.

IFA Test

A second common test is the indirect immunofluorescent antibody assay (IFA) blood test, which is sent to a lab. This method tests your cat’s white blood cells for the infection. When the IFA test comes back positive, it usually indicates a more advanced stage of the virus and can mean that your cat is infected with FeLV for the rest of their + line divider

Stages of Feline Leukemia Infection

Your cat can get several stages of the virus, and each case is slightly different.

  • Abortive Infections

Though these infections are rare, a cat’s immune system can sometimes create an effective defense against FeLV. The virus will go away on its own.

  • Regressive Infections

In every 10 of 100 infected cats, a regressive infection is present. The cat’s immune system is strong enough to take the virus out of the bloodstream, but it is still present in other parts of the body.

In this state, the virus moves to the bone marrow. While it’s impossible to infect other cats in this state, the virus can resurface at some other point when the cat is contagious again.

  • Progressive Infections

With a progressive FeLV infection, the virus is found in the cat’s bloodstream. The cat’s immune system has not developed resistance to it, so clinical signs of the virus are present, and they are always contagious to other cats.

Should Cats with Feline Leukemia Be Put Down?

Cats who get feline leukemia do not need to be put down. About 70% of cats who get feline leukemia can fight the virus and secondary infections with sustained care. Sometimes, in the case of abortive infections, they can even cure themselves.3 cat divider

How to Care for a Cat with Feline Leukemia

Though science has tried different blood treatments, there is no cure for feline leukemia. Cats with a progressive form of the virus must live with the disease their whole lives. However, that does not mean your cat will have an unhappy life from now on.

What’s most important for cats with feline leukemia is to stay healthy. This means that they need to keep up on all their vaccinations, vet checkups, and a low-stress lifestyle. Cats with this virus are more susceptible to secondary infections.

If a secondary condition is present, it can prove to be fatal. That is why it’s essential that a FeLV positive cat stays as healthy as possible. Your vet will want to stay on top of secondary infections and may prescribe antibiotics or perform blood transfusions from time to time, depending on the severity of the condition.

Featured image credit: Kittima05, Shutterstock

About the Author

Jordin Horn
Jordin Horn
Jordin Horn is a freelance writer who has covered many topics, including home improvement, gardening, pets, CBD, and parenting. Over the years, she has moved around so much that there's been no time to settle down and own a pet. However, as an animal lover, she dotes on and cuddles any pet she happens upon! She grew up with and dearly loved an American Eskimo Spitz named Maggie and a Pomeranian/Beagle mix named Gabby. She calls Colorado home, but has also recently resided in China, Iowa, and Puerto Rico Jordin does not like to settle for the "easy answer" when it comes to living life with your pet. She loves to research the best methods and products out there and cut through the jargon so you can see plainly what something is or how something is done.

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