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  • Writer's pictureDorota Fraczek

Understanding Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV): Insights from a Professional Cat Breeder

Updated: Jan 18

As a professional cat breeder, one of the most significant health concerns I encounter in the feline world is Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV). This article aims to provide an in-depth understanding of FeLV, its impact, prevention, and management strategies, especially from the perspective of breeding healthy and resilient cats.

What is Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)?

Feline Leukaemia Virus is a retrovirus that affects cats. Unlike many other viruses, FeLV doesn’t always lead to immediate illness, but over time it can cause a variety of health issues, including leukaemia, lymphoma, and anaemia. It is one of the most common infectious diseases in cats and can be fatal.

Transmission of FeLV

FeLV is primarily transmitted through close contact among cats. The virus is present in the saliva, blood, urine, and faeces of infected cats. Common modes of transmission include:

  • Mutual grooming

  • Sharing food and water dishes

  • Litter box sharing

  • Bite wounds

Mother cats can also transmit the virus to their kittens, either during pregnancy or through nursing.

Symptoms of FeLV

The symptoms of FeLV-infected cats can vary significantly, often depending on the stage of infection and the specific health issues the virus causes. Common symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

  • Poor coat condition

  • Persistent fever and lethargy

  • Enlarged lymph nodes

  • Respiratory problems

  • Gastrointestinal issues

  • Reproductive problems in breeding cats

Diagnosis of FeLV

Early detection of FeLV is crucial for effective management. Diagnostic methods include:

  • ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) test: This is usually the first test performed and can detect the presence of the virus in the blood.

  • IFA (Indirect Immunofluorescence Assay) test: Used to confirm a positive ELISA test, especially in breeding cats.

  • PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests: These can detect the genetic material of the virus and are useful in ambiguous cases.

Impact on Breeding

As a breeder, FeLV poses significant challenges:

  • Infected cats can pass the virus to their offspring.

  • The virus can cause reproductive issues, such as abortions and infertility.

  • Kittens born to infected mothers have a high risk of being infected.

Management and Prevention Strategies

Regular Testing

Testing cats before introducing them to a breeding program is crucial. Regular testing is also important for cats in multi-cat environments.

Isolation and Quarantine

Infected cats should be kept separate from healthy cats to prevent the spread of the virus.


While FeLV vaccines don’t provide 100% protection, they significantly reduce the risk of infection and are highly recommended for breeding cats.

Maintaining a Closed Cattery

Limiting exposure to unknown or outdoor cats can greatly reduce the risk of FeLV.

Good Hygiene Practices

Regular cleaning of litter boxes, food and water dishes, and bedding helps minimize the risk of virus transmission.


Feline Leukaemia Virus is a serious concern in the feline breeding community. Understanding the nature of the virus, practicing diligent testing, vaccination, and maintaining strict hygiene and isolation protocols are essential steps in managing and preventing FeLV. As responsible breeders, our goal is not only to breed cats of high pedigree but also to ensure the health and well-being of every cat in our care. By taking proactive measures against FeLV, we can safeguard the health of our cats and ensure the vitality of future generations.

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