My cat has leukemia. What can I do to keep her healthy and strong?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I found out yesterday that my cat has leukemia. She is my heart, and I’m totally devastated. I want to know if there’s anything I can do to make her stronger so she has a chance at fighting this–food, vitamins, anything. Please help!

~Marie

Siouxsie: It is heartbreaking to find out that a beloved cat has a disease like feline leukemia. But the good news is that if you take very good care of your cat and take certain precautions, she can still enjoy a good quality of life and you can have many happy years together.

Thomas: Feline leukemia is caused by a retrovirus. Diseases like HIV/AIDS in humans and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are also caused by retroviruses. It’s been said that about 1 to 2 percent of the population of free-roaming cats is infected with the feline leukemia virus (FeLV).

Dahlia: There are two tests veterinarians use to detect FeLV in cats. The first one, most commonly used in vets’ offices, is the ELISA test. The ELISA test is used to check a cat’s blood for antigens to the feline leukemia virus. The ELISA test is more likely to detect weak, early, or transient infections.

Siouxsie: When a cat comes back positive for FeLV on an ELISA test, the vet may send a blood sample to another laboratory for a more complex test called the IFA. The IFA test checks for the virus antigen in white blood cells. A positive result on an IFA test means that the cat’s bone marrow cells are infected with the leukemia virus and that the cat is very likely shedding the virus in saliva, making him contagious to other cats.

Thomas: Sometimes kittens born of an FeLV-positive mother may initially test positive for the virus themselves because they are getting it through their mother’s milk and grooming. Very rarely, these kittens may fight off the virus and later test negative. But an adult cat who tests positive for feline leukemia likely is infected for the rest of her life.

Dahlia: Leukemia has a number of complications, including susceptibility to infections (because the leukemia virus harms the immune systems), and depending on the type of leukemia virus, the cat may even be at a higher risk of developing certain cancers.

Siouxsie: But all is not lost. Even though there is no cure for FeLV at present, this disease isn’t an immediate death sentence for your cat.

Thomas: There are ways you can keep the effects of FeLV at bay and help your cat live the longest, healthiest life possible.

Dahlia: As you’ve intuitively grasped, good nutrition is a key factor in keeping your cat healthy.

Siouxsie: You also need to make sure your cat gets regular veterinary care and that she remains free of parasites like worms and fleas. If your FeLV-positive cat so much as gets a sniffle, you should call your vet. In a cat with a compromised immune system, a minor cold could become fatal if not aggressively treated.

Thomas: Of course, you’ll need to keep your cat strictly indoors. Not only will this limit her exposure to parasites and germs, but it will keep other cats from becoming infected by your cat.

Dahlia: Stress has a strong negative effect on the immune system, so you need to make sure your cat is subjected to absolutely minimal levels of stress.

Siouxsie: There are vitamin supplements that can help your cat stay strong and healthy. We’d strongly recommend that you work with a holistic vet along with your regular vet. The holistic vet may be able to tailor a nutrition or alternative treatment program for your cat that will compliment the medications your regular vet prescribes and help your cat’s immune system and minimize her stress.

Thomas: In order to find a holistic veterinarian in your area, you can ask friends (or possibly even your own veterinarian) for the names of vets in your area. Another resource is the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, which maintains a list of practicing members in the US, Canada, and even a few European countries.

Dahlia: Beware of any holistic practitioner–vet or otherwise–who claims he or she can cure your cat of feline leukemia or urges you to stop taking your cat to your regular vet for treatment.  It’s easy to give a person false hope that their cat will get better, forever, if they just give it certain herbs or tinctures or whatever, and it’s unethical in the extreme for a practitioner to take advantage of people in vulnerable situations.

Siouxsie: Mama says she’s never met a holistic vet who would do such a thing, but she knows that such individuals do exist. There are plenty of these “snake oil salesmen” in the human holistic care world, and they are sure to be present in the holistic veterinary world, too.

Thomas: Dental care is especially important for FeLV-positive cats. A lot of infections begin in the mouth as a result of tartar buildup that causes gum disease. Get your cat familiar with having her teeth brushed; if you brush her teeth regularly (with toothpaste designed for cats, not human toothpaste!) you can help to prevent these infections from taking hold.

Dahlia: There is plenty of feline leukemia research underway, and it is possible that someday there may be a cure. But for now, what you need to do is treat your cat and give her lots of love and affection. Maintain a positive attitude. Your positive attitude and emotional support will go a long way toward keeping your cat healthy.

Siouxsie: And most importantly, establish a good relationship with your vet. It’s crucial that you and your vet have a rapport and good communication established, so that the two of you can be allies in your cat’s treatment.

Thomas: We know that you have to go through a kind of grieving process right now. You’ve just received devastating news. It’s OK, and important, for you to move through this and come to a point where you accept that leukemia is a fact of your cat’s life. You’ll be able to enjoy the time you do have together all the more if you reach an emotional point where you can cherish each day you have with her.

Dahlia: For more detailed information about FeLV, we’d recommend that you take a look at this fact sheet from the Cornell Feline Health Center, one of the most highly regarded sources of information about cat care and disease.

Siouxsie: Good luck, Marie. Your cat is truly blessed to have a person who cares so much about her and wants to do all she can to keep her cat healthy for as long as possible.

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Comments

  1. says

    We have a special kitty with leukemia. Her name is Star Grace. She was a ferrel cat that we were feeding for a couple of months and then one day she was real sick and I was able to catch her. We got her well then found out she has leukemia. We give her Oral Interferon for one week at a time every other week. We also keep her indoors. We’ve had her for over three years and she hasen’t been sick at all. We have nine other cats, five with diabilities.
    They all get leukemia shots and none have been enfected. There is hope!

    • says

      my cat was diagnosed with feline leukemia 2 weeks ago. She came through the treatment and now looks fine but she was on interferon for a week and now needs to start her second week. Will she have any neurological affect, etc. taking long-term interferon

  2. Jerrianne says

    Wow. Im so glad I found this site. It helps so much! Like Marie, My cat Lucky is in the same situation and He is just like a memeber of the Family. Thanks Everyone!!

  3. Kelly says

    I am in a similar boat as well. I love my cat so much, and I was devastated to find out he has leukemia. Im glad there are other out there trying to get information and I hope the best for you cat!

  4. Claudia says

    Our cat Mickey was diagnosed with feline leukemia yesterday and the vet was ready to put him to sleep. We did not let her, we were not ready to let him go and feel there is hope for him. This web site gives us even more reason to believe there is hope for our cat.

  5. says

    My cat (8 mos.) was diagnosed with feline leukemia a month or so ago by the vet my girlfriend works for. My cat became violently ill and could not hold down a thing. No water. No food. She was like this and threw up everything she ate shortly after she ate it. I had my girlfriend, we live together, take her to the vet. The vet said it was “hairballs” and gave my 6lb cat 3 teaspoons of laxitone (fancy Vaseline). She said the cat was fine and was not throwing up any more. I brought her home and noticed she is breathing very laboriously. I thought she was dry heaving. I waited a while and took her to the after hours emergency vet. She was dehydrated from throwing up. The other vet didn’t even give her any fluids. She just x-rayed the cat and gave her Vaseline. She said “it’s christmas and cats eat stuff”. But we told her when we dropped her off that we do not decorate the house for any holiday. The emergency vet said she was aspirating something. I can only logically assume it is the Vaseline that was shoved in her mouth by the other vet. When the emergency vet tried to give her fluids she collapsed, her pink paws were purple. She was put into oxygen for a while. I have a tank of oxygen from my glass blowing shop hooked up to the closet so I can give her oxygen. Sometimes she gasps. I have been giving her Lactated Ringer’s solution subcutaneously. What else can I do? Would this breathing that just appeared over night be from the leukemia? I am having trouble feeding her as well. I have a syringe with food she has eaten maybe a cc today. What else can I do?

  6. Shane says

    I just found out today that my 4-5 month old kitten has leukemia. I was so devastated and I am very glad that I found this sight, not that it makes me feel any better :( But it does help me at least get a grasp on the situation and what I can do to help. Thank you.

  7. Monica says

    I FOUND MY AMAZING CAT 8 MONTHS AGO AT A OLD DUPLEX I STAYED AT, SHE WAS A TINY LITTLE THING THEN AND NEVER LEFT MY HOUSE EVER SINCE THE DAY SHE FOUND IT! SHE WAS APART OF ME INSTANTLY. I MOVED TO ANOTHER PLACE AND SHE LOVED IT! SHE IS THE HIGHLIGHT OF MY WHOLE DAY! I FOUND OUT SHE WAS PREGNANT MONTHS LATER BY NOTICING HER STOMIC GETTING BIGGER BY THE DAY AND WAS SO EXCITED! I LOVED THE FACT ABOUT HAVING MORE CATS. WELL JUST YESTERDAY SHE GAVE BIRTH AND THE BABYS CAME OUT PRE-MATURE AND NOT ALIVE. I WAS DEVASTATED AND AS WAS SHE, I THOUGHT SHE WAS JUST DEPRESSED BECAUSE SHE DIDNT EAT THE REST OF THE DAY AND SLEEPED ALOT. WELL BY TODAY IT REALY CONSERNED ME WHEN SHE WOULDNT EAT ANYTHING AGAIN, SO I TOLD MYSELF I WOULD TAKE HER TO THE VET AFTER WORK. WELL BEING AT WORK DIDNT HELP ME NOT THINK ABOUT HER SO I TOOK WORK OFF EALY AND FOUND MY POOR CAT BLEEDING LIKE CRAZY! SO I SWOOPED HER UP AND RAN HER TO THE VET THAT MINUTE! THE VET TOLD ME SHE HAD AN INFECTION AND A FEVER OF 106!! HE WOULD HAVE TO DO SURGERY RIGHT AWAY! OF COURSE I SAID ANYTHING AND WENT STRAIGHT TO THE FRONT DESK TO SIGHN SOME PAPERS. AS I WAS FILLING OUT FORMS OF INFORMATION THE VET CAME BACK TO TALK TO ME AND SAID THAT HE HAD TESTED HER FOR LEUKEMIA AND THAT SHE TESTED POSITIVE WHICH EXPLAINS THE HORRIBLE BIRTH EXPERIENCE WE JUST HAD. HE SAID HE WOULD RE-THINK ME PUTING HER THROUGH SURGERY BECAUSE SHE MAY NOT EVEN MAKE IT AND HER CHANCES OF RECOVER ARE VERY POOR. AFTER I CRYED MY EYES OUT AND THOUGHT VERY HARD ABOUT WHAT THIS VET WAS CONSIDERING I DO, I CALLED EVERYONE I KNEW FOR ADVISE AS I SOBBED THE SITUATION IN EACH OF THEIR EARS. ALMOST EVERY PERSON TOLD ME THAT I GAVE HER A GOOD LIFE AND TO PUT HER DOWN. I COULDNT EVEN BARE THE THOUGHT OF MAKING THAT KIND OF DECITION, ESPECIALLY WHEN SHE WAS FINE THE ENTIRE TIME BEFORE THIS. SO I WENT WITH FAITH AND DECIDED TO DO EVERYTHING BEFORE NOTHING. THE VET TOLD ME HE WOULD CALL ME LATER TODAY AND LET ME KNOW HOW THINGS WENT. HE CALLED ME ABOUT AN HOUR AGO AND SAID THE SURGERY WENT PERFECTLY AND THAT SHE WAS JUST WAKING UP FROM ANESTHESIA. HE TOLD ME I CAN PICK HER UP TOMORROW AT 8AM, AND MY HEART CANT STOP BEATING UNCONTROLLABLY!! IM SO EXCITED TO SEE HER TOMORROW THAT I CAN BURST INTO DANCE! IM SO HAPPY WITH MY DECISION THAT I WILL BE SO GRATEFUL FOR EVERY DAY I GET TO SPEND WITH HER AFTER TODAY! I WILL CHERISH EVERY MEMORY AND CAN ONLY PRAY HER RECOVERY IS GOOD AND THAT SHE CAN LIVE A HAPPY LIFE WITH ME AS LONG AS THE LEUKEMIA LETS HER. THANK YOU FOR THIS PAGE, AND I HOPE EVERYONE CAN KEEP THERE HEADS UP AND KNOW THEY DID EVERYTHING THEY COULD, AND WANTED NOTHING MORE THAN THIER CATS HAPPINESS!

    • The Paws and Effect Gang says

      We’re so glad you’ve stayed with your baby through thick and thin. It’s cat caretakers like you, who are willing and able to give a cat with a chronic illness a chance at a good life, that make us so happy. *purrrrs* to you from Siouxsie, Thomas, and Dahlia!

  8. Eiri says

    I have a 6 yr old tuxedo cat that was a stray. he topped out at 16 lbs. His name is Jack O’Lantern’s Weather. i noticed he stopped eatin. this is hard to tell for sure we have 2 other csts and 4 dogs. but when he got to be less than active i took him to the vet. we have kown for 5 or so yrs about his leukemia we have his blood work done often to keep an eye on his kidneys which have now begun to fail. he has been on k/d food that has less protein in it which has helped but some where along the line he got a nasty infection and became enimic. the doc told me that once they stop eating it is almost impossable to get the eating again. he was given 48 hours to see if he would get any better. so far hes eating like normal and we are going to get more fluids today. i will learn how to do it and do so at home over the week end. the vet also said his blood was very dark i dont know if that means its starting to thicken…….i cant give up on him. we have has scares alot with him. he is also on phenobarbitaol to cotrol his seizures i wondered if any one knew of a way for me to get isred blood cell count up. the vet says she doesnt think hes in pain. i wont let him hurt thsts just beeing elfish but if anyone has any idea on how i can keep my jack alive happy and as health as i can for a catin his condition please help me. thanx in advance

  9. Pika says

    These stories are very sad but give me hope.
    I have a very ill 13 month old cat with FeLV. My vet said he was probably born with it since he came from a breeder house that was in poor condition.
    He was moderately healthy when I 1st adopted him at age 3 or 4 months, but he has gotten much worse as he is growing up.
    He coughs all the time and may have asthma too, as well as FeLV.
    He has had 2 bronchi infections that required prednisone (steroids) and Clavamox (anti biotics).
    The first time the combo worked really well but 2 months later that same drug combo is not working.
    My cat Silver (Si˩3v) is coughing ALL THE TIME & he isn’t eating that much, anymore.
    I probably have to bring him to a 2nd vet to get another opinion of how to make him better.
    I hope all of our cats live long healthy lives. ♥♥
    This page gave me hope.

  10. max says

    you people make me sick. i just done the right thing and put the cat i loved of her misery today.
    she was in pain, losing weight drasticly and uninterested in grooming herself.

    she was 4.5 years old , was born in my house a week after my daughter. was my famiy pet

    we had a very emotional goodbyt and walked away. i will never forget this cat and dunno can i ever get another cat after this, cause its too hard when there gone.

    at least i take comfort in knowing she is not in pain anymore.

    if you people werent so selfish ye might actually think about your cats quality of life

  11. says

    I understand how you feel, my young cat has been diagnosed with lukemia too only yesterday, i thought my heart would break as we had just lost another cat of 10 years a month ago. All is not lost we can still give her a good life just with a little extra tender loving care. I wish you all the luck with your kitty.

  12. Alex says

    My kitten is currently spending the evening at an Animal hospital with the prospect of potentially being infected with Cat Lukemia. It’s 1:45 and I can’t sleep so I am blogging on this site. I adopted him from a sketchy apartment complex where a lot of cats live in a over populated area. He’s my little buddy and the thought of him being sick in this way is heart breaking. Aslong as he doesn’t start degenerating at a rapid pace I intend to find out whatever treatment is available and foot the bill for it. If I see that my want of him in my life is compromising the quality of his I will cross that bridge when I come to it but, for now I intend on introducing vitamins and whatever medicine is available into his already indoor/protected life style. I pray that it’s just a upper respiratory infection. If you see this post pray for Rocky he’s such a good cat.

  13. Michelle says

    I have lost several rescue cats that were + felv. once i resolved to adopt no more of those heart breaks, my daughter finds a 3 week old kitten left for dead in our back yard. After carefully hand feeding this kitten, fighting off worms, & visits to the veterinarians who didn’t expect him to survive, we got him through the weaning process unscathed. When I took him to get his vaccinations and neuter I had him tested. The positive result was expected but by then he was a part of our family & was showing no symptoms. Boo is now 18 months old & still going strong. After a long & losing battle with recurring tapeworms, I finally realized that it was much more effective, not to mention less expensive to just give him Advantage multi every month, which has been surprisingly successful. Knowing early on that our time was short together, I resolved to do as much research & take the best care possible with him, despite financial difficulties. Besides his twice yearly visits to the vet, my daughter & I make sure we spend each day giving him attention through petting & play. Like most people I have to leave home for a good portion of each day. As Boo grew, he became more interested in the outdoors, naturally, & lonely after 8 hour days in our small mobile home. Knowing it would be detrimental to allow him to roam the great outdoors, I decided his stress would be alleviated greatly by giving him a cat enclosure. With very little cash I scouted out clearance priced lumber & began building. Once I attached the enclosure to my living room window, via a cat bridge & a doggy door, Boo was elated. Not only did I stop finding tattered rolls of toilet paper around the house, he got his time in the sun. We take Boo on walks with a leash which isn’t as difficult with a cat if you have patience & begin when they’re young. So far I have been feeding him kitten chow dry mostly & a tablespoon of wet food every morning right before I exit the house, easing our separation. While he prefers a long drink from a running faucet, when alone fresh water is a must. We are adamant about not feeding him people food, no matter how small the amount, knowing it contains bacteria that his immune system may not fight off. Not even to lick a plate. Not only does he not mind, begging is no longer an issue. I use a finger brush & a cat tooth paste a few times a week. During the day, when he is alone, I leave the TV or radio on low, make certain there are warm & cool spots in the house, pull out a few favorite toys, including ones that hang from the ceiling for his predatory instincts.[He is a furryocious moth hunter] All this may sound like excessive coddling by a crazy cat lady, yet, the unconditional love & laughs he brings to my family make all this seem more like a privilege than work.

  14. The Paws and Effect Gang says

    Aww, Michelle, that doesn’t sound like excessive coddling OR craziness to us! It sounds like you’re a wonderful cat mom and that every cat who’s shared your life has been blessed with a caretaker who loves them unconditionally and wants to give them the best possible life … no matter how long or short it may be. *purrrrrrrrrrrr*

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