The polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid ([AA] 204n-6), is both the key of the immunoregulatory substances, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes, and an essential component of immune cell membrane phospholipids, providing stability and flexibility to ensure cellular function. To explore possible effects of the physiological burden of viral replication in chronic viral infections on AA availability, plasma total esterified fatty acid (FA) proportions were measured in the feline leukemia (FeLV) model. Plasma FA profiles of 12 specific-pathogen-free cats with chronic infections with Rickard strain feline leukemia virus (FeLV-R) were compared with 12 age- and sex-matched uninfected specific-pathogen-free cats at 4 months after infection. A significant decrease from normal of average AA proportion was found in FeLV-R-infected cat plasma, while other major FA (palmitic, stearic, and oleic and omega-3 FA normally remained present until near death. Since plasma FA content rapidly affects circulating immune cell membrane composition and since FeLV infection also targets immune cells, we compared FA profiles of feline T4-thymic lymphoma 3201 cell membranes that were infected with virulent FeLV-R or less virulent FeLV-A, at 20 days after viral inoculation with sham-inoculated uninfected 3201 cells. Significantly altered FA proportions and ratios of saturated to unsaturated FA found in infected cell membranes were similar to plasma FA changes and paralleled the virulence of the FeLV inoculum. Altered postinfection FA proportions may impart serious functional defects to the immune cells of chronic FeLV-infected cats, contributing to the inability of their immune systems to eliminate FeLV by depleted plasma AA stores and modified cell membrane composition. Decreased AA availability may be an important factor in the cachexia and fatal outcome of FeLV infection.