How long will a cat with feline leukemia virus live?

Our question this week was:

Dr. Debra – I am an elderly woman and just took in a cat that has feline leukemia. I’ve been feeding his for a while – he was a stray tomcat. I decided to take him in as I just love him. He is very sweet but a tom. Anyway – when I took him to the vet for a check up and to have him neutered they said he has feline leukemia. I don’t have a lot of money and am not sure what to do. He is healthy and happy now. Should I have him put to sleep? I don’t have a lot of money if he gets sick but I hate to put him to sleep.




Hi – thanks for your email. I’m sorry to hear about your stray. Bless you for taking him in. You wrote that you took in a healthy stray and he tested feline leukemia positive on a routine test prior to neutering.

The leukemia virus is complex. Basically – a cat that is exposed to leukemia progresses one of 3 ways. He could do any of the following:

1.His body fights it and he eliminates it from his body in about 6 weeks. He will then test negative for Feline leukemia virus (FeLV). This occurs to about 1/3 of cats.

2.About 1/3 of cats will get sick. Some cats develop FeLV-related disease with approximately 60 percent mortality within 2 years.

3.The remaining third will carry the disease, not be able to eliminate the disease but not necessarily get sick. Some cats can have reactivation of the virus at a later time.

An article that might be helpful to you is Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV).

If he is healthy – I’d recommend that you have him neutered, take him in to your home and keep him as long as he is healthy and happy. I’d recommend retesting in 6 to 8 weeks. Keep him inside and turn him into an indoor only cat. This will eliminate his chance of infecting other cats.

There is a chance he will never get sick. If he does and if you don’t have any money – you can deal with that decision at a later time. At least you would give him a chance.

Dr. Debra

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