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Leukemia in Cats

By: Erika De Papp

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Leukemia is a type of cancer that results from the proliferation of cancerous blood cells in the bone marrow. The cause of leukemia in dogs is unknown, although in humans, exposure to certain chemicals, treatment with chemotherapy drugs, and radiation therapy have all been implicated in causing leukemia.

Leukemia can be classified in many different ways, based on the specific type of blood cell which is involved. The most common form of leukemia seen in cats and dogs is lymphocytic leukemia, because of the involvement of lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell. Lymphocytic leukemia can be further broken down into acute (sudden onset) and chronic (long term illness) forms.

The impact of leukemia on your pet can vary with the form of the disease. The different forms have differing clinical presentations and each form carries a different prognosis for your pet.

What to Watch For

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Pale gums
  • Lethargy
  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lameness
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Seizures
  • General malaise


  • Complete history and physical exam
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Reticulocyte count
  • Biochemical profile
  • Urine analysis
  • Chest radiographs (x-rays)
  • Abdominal radiographs or ultrasound exam
  • Bone marrow aspirate
  • Fine needle aspirate of abdominal organs or lymph nodes


  • Chemotherapy
  • Blood transfusions if patients are severely anemic (low red blood cell count)
  • Antibiotics to treat secondary infections
  • General supportive care

    Home Care and Prevention

    Give all medications as directed. Many patients with leukemia are predisposed to secondary infections due to a compromised immune system. Exposure to animals outside of the household should be minimized as much as possible.

    There are no specific measures to prevent leukemia in your pet.

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