Transmission of FeLV

FeLV usually spreads through infected saliva. It can also spread through infected urine, tears, and feces, and through an infected mother to her kittens during gestation and nursing. Twenty percent of FeLV-positive mothers pass the virus to their kittens. Methods of transmission include the following:

  • Bite wounds from infected cats (more common among outdoor and indoor-outdoor cats)
  • Blood transfusions
  • Mouth and nose contact with infected saliva or urine
  • Mutual grooming
  • Nose-to-nose contact
  • Shared food dishes and water bowls
  • Shared litter trays
  • Sneezing

Immune cats that are temporarily viremic may or may not shed the virus (i.e., spread it through their saliva, tears, urine, feces) during the few weeks that it's in their blood. All persistently viremic cats spread the virus through their saliva, tears, urine, and feces for the rest of their lives. In normal conditions, FeLV survives less than a few hours outside of a cat's body.

Veterinarian researchers generally agree that FeLV cannot be transmitted to humans. Some studies have shown a correlation between certain human leukemia and exposure to FeLV-infected cats, but this has not been proven.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 01 Mar 2001

Last Modified: 16 Dec 2014