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Subject: rec.pets.cats: Feline Leukemia FAQ
This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:22:26 GMT
Last-modified: 13 Aug 1999
The latest versions of these FAQ's may be obtained via the Web at
The multiple posted (ASCII) parts of the FAQ are all archived at rtfm.mit.edu
(126.96.36.199) in the directory /pub/usenet/news.answers/cats-faq. These
files will also appear in other sites that mirror the RTFM archives.
Feline Leukemia Virus FAQ
(dedicated to Oliver and countless other cats whose lives have been
mercilessly shortened by this virus. We will all meet them again at
the Rainbow Bridge.)
* General information about FeLV
* If your cat has tested positive
* Other FeLV sites
Last updated April 20, 1998.
Written by Erin Miller [ email@example.com] with help from James
Golczewski, PhD; Edwin Barkdoll, DVM-to-be; Cindy Tittle Moore;
Jeff Parke, DVM; C.M. Newell, DVM; Barb French; Richard Kinoshita;
and Ann Huber. Additional thanks to Wilf Leblanc, Dan Kozisek,
Karen Kolling, Isako Honshino, Patty Winter, Harold Lemon, Jill
Kronstadt, and many members of the Cat Fanciers' Internet Mailing
List for their comments.
The purpose of this FAQ is to answer frequently asked questions about
the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). The Feline Leukemia Virus is a virus
which suppresses your cat's immune system. A cat that becomes infected
with the virus becomes susceptible to many ailments or breakdowns in
its system. The virus was somewhat inappropriately named because it is
different than the disease Feline Leukemia. A cat that tests positive
for the virus will not necessarily contract the disease Feline
Leukemia. However, cats that do test positive for the virus are more
likely to catch any one of a number of diseases including, but not
limited to, leukemia, lymphoma or opportunistic infections. This FAQ
is divided into two parts; the first consists of information every cat
owner should know or should ask about the virus. The second part is
information for people whose cats have tested positive for the virus.
PART I: General Information about FeLV
What is Feline Leukemia Virus and can I catch it?
Feline Leukemia Virus is a virus that is specific to cats only. It is
considered to be the most common cause of serious illness and
death in domestic cats. It causes a breakdown in your cat's immune
system causing your cat to become susceptible to many diseases
which it might otherwise be able to fight off. It CANNOT be
transmitted to humans (including children) nor can it be
transmitted to other species such as dogs. The National Cancer
Institute and the National Institutes of Health have written a
CancerNet Factsheet which is available via gopher. See the
References section for more information on this.
I've heard FELV is like AIDS. Can I catch AIDS or anything else from
People often use the "it's like AIDS" phrase to describe a number of
illnesses in the animal (and human) community with the idea that
most people know so much about AIDS that this analogy is useful.
Unfortunately most people don't know much about AIDS and the
resulting effect is to scare people out of their wits and have
them dump their cats or dogs at the nearest pound because they are
so deathly afraid of AIDS. They are similar to AIDS in that they
affect and weaken the body's immune system. The ONLY similarity
between FeLV, FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and FIP (Feline
Infectious Peritonitis) is in their genetic makeup. All are RNA
(as opposed to DNA) viruses, and FeLV and FIV are what are known
as "retroviruses." FIP is a "coronavirus." (See the FIP FAQ for
more information on this disease).
What is a retrovirus?
Retroviruses carry with them an enzyme that causes a process to occur
in the DNA known as "reverse transcription." RNA normally pairs up
with DNA, copies itself, and thus increases/replicates itself.
When an RNA retrovirus does this, it fools the DNA to copy *it*,
instead of the normal RNA, thus causing even more of the
retrovirus to be created. So as long as a particular cell is
affected with the retrovirus, that cell will be affected for its
whole life. One would have to kill the cell before it reproduces
to eliminate any chance of that cell making any more FeLV or FIV
RNA. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to get rid
of, because you must kill all the cells which contain the virus,
and attempting to do this may either kill the animal itself, or it
is simply impossible to tell which cells have the virus in the
first place. Basically, a retrovirus is a parasite at the genetic
level, a DNA-tapeworm, if you will.
How is it transmitted?
FeLV is transmitted via saliva, mucus, urine, feces and blood. This
means mutual grooming and biting/fighting are the most likely
methods of transmission, although sneezing, hissing, sharing
food/water bowls and sharing litter boxes are also possible means
Will I infect my healthy cat if I pet an FeLV+ cat, then pet my cat?
No. Not unless you were to go immediately from one cat to another, and
have wet saliva, urine or blood on your hand. Even then the
chances would be slim. FeLV needs to be transferred through the
media above, and will not live long outside the host (the infected
cat). Warm, dry environments will deactivate the virus and common
household detergents and disinfectants will eliminate it from any
contacted surfaces. If you wash your hands with soap after
touching an infected cat, you will not infect an FeLV negative
What does the virus do to a cat?
In sum, once the virus gains entry (usually via saliva or mucus
membranes) it will reproduce in the lymph tissue which is your
cat's first system of immune defense. Some cats are able to mount
a successful immune response against it and defeat the virus at
this stage. In cats who don't successfully destroy the virus here,
the virus will then move into the bone marrow where red and white
blood cells are produced. It may stay latent in the marrow for
many years. After that it will attack other tissues, including
possibly causing a breakdown in several stages of the immune
Is there a vaccine?
Yes, there are several commercial vaccines available. Unfortunately
the USDA does not have standard requirements for FeLV vaccines, so
different manufacturers can publish 'Effectiveness Ratings' which
cannot be compared with each other due to a lack of uniformity in
testing terms and requirements. Estimating the effectiveness of
the vaccines is difficult and most vets I've spoken with estimate
them to have ~75-85% effectiveness (this means cats challenged
with the virus will fight off infection 7-8 times out of ten).
Published studies show that there are irreconcilable differences
and bias in Effectiveness Ratings put out by the manufacturers so
currently it is impossible to estimate the actual effectiveness of
and between vaccines. Suffice it to say that your cat is MUCH
better off trying to fight the virus having received the vaccine,
but the vaccine is not 100% effective so you should not expose
your cat to undue risks. (Note: NO vaccine, whether it be for
cats, dogs or people, is 100% effective. Some are about close to
being as fully effective as possible, however the FeLV vaccine is
not one of them).
Since writing the first version of this FAQ, I've had a number of
people tell me that a cat has only a 30% likelihood of catching
the disease, and even then if only in persistent close contact. I
have found nothing in the recent literature to support this claim,
and every veterinarian I have spoken with states that the
likelihood of becoming infected depends on the level of exposure,
which vary in different locales and situations. Since most tests
are done in controlled situations, it would be impossible to come
up with true "real world" statistics. In one vet's words "But what
if it is only 30%? Would you stop wearing seat belts if there was
only a 30% chance of serious accidents if you commuted in a car
every day? I hope the odds are far less than that ... and yet I
still hope you are taking the appropriate safety cautions. Unless
the vaccine has been proven to cause serious harm, it is a good
precaution to take, regardless of the percent chance of disease
If I don't get my cat vaccinated, what are its natural defenses
against the virus?
According to the literature, neonatal kittens are 100% susceptible to
catching the virus from one exposure. 8-week-old weanlings are 85%
susceptible from one exposure. There is serious debate over the
likelihood of non-vaccinated, healthy adult cats becoming infected
with the virus but it seems that ~40% of cats exposed become
immune, ~30 percent become persistently infected (show acute signs
of a related-disease) and ~30 percent become infected, but the
virus is latent in their system. (Hardy, et al, 1980).
Is the vaccine expensive and how often do my cats need to be
After your cat has gone through its more elaborate set of
kitten-shots, the FeLV vaccine should be given once a year. If you
adopt an adult cat and don't know if it has been vaccinated for
FeLV, start it immediately on its annual shots. If you are unsure
if your adult cat needs be vaccinated, talk to your vet. Prices
vary between vets, locally and nationally. I surveyed readers of
rec.pets.cats and contacted vets around the country and found that
prices for the vaccination alone cost between $9 and $30 dollars.
The average was $18 (not including the vet-visit charge). It seems
that the FeLV test costs about the same, but I didn't do a
If I get my cat vaccinated, isn't there a chance that it will catch
the virus from the vaccine?
No. As of July 1992, all of the vaccines which are approved for sale
in the United States are incapable of causing a positive FeLV test
result. (Sorry, but I don't have figures for vaccines in other
countries. If anyone does, feel free to append them onto this
Is there any risk in getting my cats vaccinated?
There is always a risk that your cat may have a bad reaction to a
vaccine, ANY vaccine. It is a good idea to wait in your vet's
waiting room for 30 minutes after receiving a vaccination, ANY
vaccination, to make sure your cat does not have an adverse
reaction, and if it does the vets will be on hand to deal with the
There is also some evidence that vaccinations in general may be
the cause of tumors (known as postvaccinal sarcomas or
fibrosarcomas). The chance of this happening is estimated to be
approximately 1-2 in 10,000, but you should be aware of it
nonetheless. This has not been limited to FeLV vaccines, in fact
it was originally thought to pertain solely to rabies vaccines,
but this is not thought to be the case any more. Since this form
of cancer seems to have a high recurrence rate, and little is
known about it, if you have *strictly* indoor-only cats, you may
want to discuss with your vet if the risk of fibrosarcoma is
greater than the risk of being exposed to FeLV if the cat gets
out. This is an individual decision that will be different for
each household. You should contact your vet immediately if you
notice any lumps in the vaccine injection area.
Do I have to get my cats vaccinated?
No one can force you to vaccinate your pets, though there are laws in
some areas regarding certain diseases like rabies. Check with your
vet to see what vaccines are required in your area.
My cats are indoors-only. Why should I bother getting them vaccinated?
The answer to this question all boils down to a risk/benefit
If you live in a high-rise, do not plan on moving in the next
year, and do not plan on exposing your cat to other cats (such as
getting a new kitten, or temporarily housing a stray), then there
is really no need to get the cat vaccinated. If it is somehow
possible for your cat to make it to the outside world, whether it
be because of a break-in, or a landlord who forgets to close the
window they just fixed, or a visitor doesn't realize the cat is
not allowed outside (all of which are real-life cases of people I
know whose indoor-only cats have gotten outside) then your cat is
at SOME risk. Many people who lived through Hurricane Andrew or
the LA Earthquake can tell you that some of their indoors-only
cats ended up on the street for days. Fortunately disasters like
these are infrequent, but the point is accidents can happen. In
the few hours or days that your cat is outside it could come in
contact with an infected cat, and it is better to give your cat
that 75-85% boost to its natural resistance.
But, some people feel the risk of adverse reaction and possible
fibrosarcomas from vaccinating are not worth the risk if the cat
is not likely to go be exposed to FeLV+ cats, even if it did get
outside for a short period. What YOU as the cat's owner (not your
vet, not your cat's breeder, not your friend of a friend who knows
a lot about cats, and not someone who wrote something you read on
the internet) must decide is how much risk is there for your cat
getting out and being exposed, and is that risk worth the other
risks associated with the vaccine?
My cat is a purebred, and I've heard the vaccine should not be given
to purebreds. The breeder I bought the cat from discourages getting
This is a touchy subject because there is often the general feeling
among vets that many breeders don't know what they are doing, and
the feeling among breeders that vets don't know much about
purebreds. There is probably a little bit of truth to both sides.
It is true that some breeders may think they understand veterinary
medicine better than they really do, and unfortunately rely on
word-of-mouth advice of other breeders rather than vets (eg: "Jane
Smith has been breeding for 15 years and she knows a lot so if she
doesn't like this vaccine, it must be bad"). But it is also true
that most vets do not deal specifically with purebred issues.
There is no course in vet school called "Purebreds 101" and vets
are often just as guilty as anyone in misidentifying mixed breeds
as purebreds, of being too quick to diagnose a "breed specific"
illness with less data than if they would if the cat were not a
purebred, or of not being aware of conditions which may affect one
breed more than another.
Keep in mind that some veterinarians are also breeders, or work
within the CFA, TICA, ACFA (AKC for dogs) or other purebred
registries, and these vets are most likely going to be more
knowledgeable about conditions which are more common to certain
breeds. Also remember that not all purebreds are the same, each
breed is different and has its own characteristics. Just like you
can't say "don't vaccinate Europeans for smallpox," because there
are *many* different cultural and ethnic groups in Europe.
The immune system of purebred cats has NEVER been tested to
determine if it is different than that of mixed breed cats. It is
impossible to state one way or another if the purebred immune
system, because of inbreeding, has any reason to adversely react
to vaccines that are tested on a largely mixed-breed cat
population. Some people feel there is a significant difference
between the two based on antecdotal evidence and won't vaccinate
for that reason, and some people feel this is nonsense.
But that doesn't answer the question because this one is going to
have to be answered by you and your own gut feeling. Who do you
trust more with the combined necessary knowledge of vaccines, as
well as about your purebred? Talk to your breeder and see if s/he
is aware of the vet literature, or is repeating word-of-mouth
arguments. Many of them are well aware, many read the literature
more than vets do, so don't be afraid to ask them why they hold
the opinions they do. Talk to your vet and ask how familiar they
are with your partiuclar breed of cat as well as purebreds in
general. Get a feel for both. Keep in mind that many breeders do
not vaccinate their own breeding cats because FeLV vaccines can
cause miscarriages and stillbirths, or it may just be cheaper for
the breeder to test their cattery every year and every cat that
comes into the cattery rather than to vaccinate, especially as
cats from a cattery are less likely to escape to the outside world
(remember the risk/benefit assessment above). Make sure you find
out exactly why the breeder does not recommend the vaccine as it
may very well be that the breeder has had numerous negative
experiences with the vaccine in his/her particular line of cats,
and that your cat may be genetically predisposed to have a bad
reaction. If this is the case, you should still discuss the matter
with your vet, and it may be best not to get the vaccine.
My cat gets sick after it gets vaccinations. Why should I put my cat
Some cats do have bad reactions to vaccines. However, it is better to
have a cat sick for one day per year from being vaccinated than to
have it die a miserable death from an FeLV-related disease. If
your cat has a bad reaction to a shot, ANY shot, and the reaction
lasts more than 12-24 hours, you should immediately bring your cat
to the vet. Even if your cat has a mild reaction, you should at
least discuss the matter to see what are the best options for next
year's vaccinations. It may be best to spread your cat's annual
vaccinations out over a few months, or have them all administered
at once. If your cat has had a *very* bad reaction, it very well
may be best to discontinue vaccinating for FeLV. Definitely
discuss this with your vet.
I already have a cat(s) and I found another which I want to bring
home. What precautions should I take regarding FeLV (and other
This depends on the environment the new cat comes from. If it is a
stray, or from a shelter which does not routinely test for the
viruses (make sure you ask this of any shelter you visit), or from
a household where you have reason to doubt the person has had the
cat tested/vaccinated, then keep the new cat separated from yours
until you can have a vet examine it for many things. Keep it in a
separate room and provide its own food dish, water bowl and
litter. DO NOT let your cats share any of these things, or share
the same space, until your vet checks out the new one. If it is a
stray cat, it may never have been vaccinated against FeLV and
Rabies, or if it was a housecat it may be past its time for an
update and have been exposed. Cats which have been on the street
may also have fleas, tapeworm, ringworm or other parasites which
are transmittable to you and your pets.
One of the most unfortunate situations that occurs far too often
is when someone, out of the kindness of their heart, takes in a
stray or unwanted cat -- either permanently or in the hopes of
finding it another home. This is often done spur-of-the-moment,
and unfortunately sometimes has dire consequences. If you find a
cat in a bad situation and you want to help it, keep it isolated
or ask your vet to board it until all the test results have
returned. It is never worth the lives of your current pets in an
attempt to save another.
How is FeLV detected?
Your vet will do a blood test; there are two types of blood tests
which can be performed. Some vets will automatically do one of the
tests before vaccinating your cat to make sure it is not already
positive for the virus. The first (ELISA test) is where the vet
takes some of your cat's blood, mixes it with a chemical and
watches for a color change. If the blood changes color then your
cat has tested positive for the virus. False positives are not
uncommon in this form of test, so if your cat tests positive it
may be a good idea to have it retested. "Light positives" are
where the treated blood only changes color slightly. This means
your cat is infected with the virus, but the virus is not very
active in its system. The second type (IFA test) involves sending
the blood sample to a special lab. This lab tests to see if the
virus is being produced in the bone marrow. If this second test is
positive, it is unlikely that your cat will ever test negative.
Below is a flow chart (from a lecture by Dr. William Hardy, U of
Penn. Vet School) which depicts what you should do if your cat
tests positive on the ELISA test:
* If positive:
+ whether healthy or sick, confirm by Indirect Fluorescent
Antibody test (IFA)
* If negative:
+ if healthy and not exposed to a positive cat then no need to
+ if healthy but exposed to a positive cat then retest in 3
months because the healthy cat may be incubating the virus.
+ if sick then confirm the ELISA test with an IFA test
So some cats who test positive can later test negative?
Yes. If you have a cat which tests positive on the ELISA test, you
should immediately have an IFA test done. If it tests negative on
the IFA test, you should have your cat retested with the ELISA
test in 3 months. If a cat does not test negative again in roughly
three months, chances are it will always test positive. Vets and
virologists have devised an entire classification scheme of the
different types of infected cats (transiently infected,
persistently infected, etc.) based on the ELISA and IFA tests. It
can be very confusing and if you are interested in learning the
details you should consult with your vet regarding your particular
Is it possible for a cat to test negative when it really is positive?
Unfortunately, yes. Although false negatives are not very common, they
do occur, especially if you are dealing with a young kitten.
Sometimes the cat has been recently exposed to FeLV, so the
antibodies have not yet had enough time to build up enough of a
response to appear on the test. To be absolutely sure a cat is not
FeLV+ you should test it twice, a few weeks apart (the cat should
remain isolated from other cats during this period, too, otherwise
there is little point in doing a second test). The likelihood of
getting a false negative is increased depending on the nature of
the test. The ELISA test will show more false negatives than the
IFA test. Some mail-order catalogues now offer FeLV testing kits
using saliva or tears as the medium. These are more likely to
trigger a false response than the ELISA test which uses blood.
Fortunately, the false negative rate on the ELISA test (which is
what most vet offices use for standard FeLV tests) is low enough
that most people don't bother with the second test.
How long does a cat who tests positive have to live?
There is no set time period for how long an FeLV+ cat will live. One
person on the internet said they had a cat which lived for 20
years with the virus, while others have given dates as long as 10
or 12 years, although these are probably extremes. I have not
found any truly long-term studies to document, but it seems that
of the studies done, 83% of FeLV+ cats do not live beyond 4 years.
(Hardy, et al 1980). All cats which do not later test negative,
but in all other ways are healthy, are carriers for the virus.
Even though they do not have acute symptoms, they can still spread
the virus to cats which are not infected. Often people do not have
their cat tested for the presence of FeLV until the cat is
noticeably sick, and by this time the FeLV-related disease may
have progressed too far for the cat to recover.
What are symptoms for which I should be on the lookout?
Unfortunately, since FeLV is a retrovirus that attacks your cat's
immune system, your cat can become ill from many things as a
result. This makes looking for a 'sure sign' very difficult. Often
the immune system is weak so your cat will become chronically
infected with certain conditions such as stomatitis, gingivitis,
oral ulcers, abscesses and non-healing wounds of the skin, upper
respiratory infections or FIP. Some cats whose digestive tracts
are affected have been described as staring at their food bowl
seemingly unable to remember how to eat, or their breathing will
be very difficult and loud. Basically, whenever your cat shows
chronic, peculiar and/or unhealthy behavior, take it to a vet to
My cat recently passed away from FeLV. How long should I wait before
getting another cat and are there any special precautions I should
Well, your own grief issues aside, from a medical point of view you do
not need to wait very long. The virus is fragile outside the host,
and I know of one vet who has even stated that it would be safe
the next day. Personally, I would wait a week at least. You should
definitely discard the litter box and food/water bowls, or else
clean both well with household detergents or a 1:32 bleach
PART II: If your cat has tested positive
Some of these points are mentioned in the general section above, but
here are more specific questions geared to people whose cats have
tested positive. The most important point to stress is that FeLV+ cats
*MUST* be made indoors-only. This needs to be done for two reasons.
First, the more you expose your cat to outside ills, the more likely
it is to contract an FeLV-related disease or infection. The second
reason is that FeLV+ cats are like Typhoid-Marys to any other cat they
meet. As noted above, the vaccine is only 75-85% effective, so any
vaccinated cat that your cat encounters is at risk, as well as any
unvaccinated cat. If these cats are then infected and they continue to
interact and infect other cats, then you could give rise to an
epidemic in your area. If you cannot or will not keep your FeLV+ cat
indoors, than the only humane thing to do is find a home for it with
someone who will (ways to do this are suggested below), or have your
cat put to sleep. This may sound extreme, but it is extremely selfish
to allow your cat to roam the neighborhood possibly infecting all the
local outdoor cats just because you refuse to keep your cat indoors.
Keeping your cat indoors is one of the responsibilities of owning an
My cat has tested positive. Should it be put to sleep?
The mere fact of testing positive is not enough to merit putting a cat
to sleep, although there may be other significant factors involved
which do make putting the cat to sleep the best option. There are
vets who recommend putting all FeLV+ cats to sleep. If your vet
recommends this and you feel comfortable with that decision, then
that is the best solution. Sometimes putting an FeLV+ cat to sleep
is the best option for the cat, especially if it has acute
symptoms and is in pain. This is never an easy decision and one
which should not be taken lightly. If you do not feel you are
capable of emotionally dealing with having an FeLV+ cat (or cannot
keep the cat indoors), but do not want to put the cat to sleep,
there are other alternatives which are discussed below. The one
thing you should not do is ignore the virus. If your cat has
tested positive, then you have a responsibility to take some
action. FELINE LEUKEMIA VIRUS WILL NOT GO AWAY IF YOU JUST IGNORE
What will happen to my cat now that it has tested positive?
Because there are so many different ways to respond to the presence of
the virus, it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen
(and when it will happen) to your cat. I've noticed that any 5
vets you ask will give you 5 different answers to this question.
The scientists who experiment and publish on the disease are also
in disagreement. I have presented two different (published)
viewpoints below. According to Hardy, et al (1980), (and these
people seem to be the authorities on the disease) roughly half of
all cats who test positive (and do not test negative again within
a three month period) are persistently infected and show acute
signs of FeLV-related diseases. The other half are latently
infected and are in all other aspects 'healthy' although they are
still carriers. 17% of all cats which test positive (and do not
later test negative) will live past 4 years. The next point of
view is taken from a much more recent article and has radically
different statistics. According to Loar (1993), of cats which test
positive for the disease only 5% will immediately become infected
with an FeLV-related disease. The other 95% will enter the latent
phase which will last for months to years. These 95% are still
carriers for the disease and can infect other cats.
Although my cat has tested positive, it is healthy in all other
respects. How can I prevent an FeLV-related disease from becoming
active in its system?
There is no sure way to keep your cat healthy. Eventually, an
FeLV-related disease will probably develop no matter what you do.
However, one way in which a disease is likely to develop is if you
stress your cat's system. If a cat's system is stressed, its body
can't put as much energy into fighting off illnesses (just like
you always seem to get sick during exams or when you have to make
a presentation to your boss). "When all my cat does is eat and
sleep 20 hours a day, how can it possibly be stressed?" you may
ask. Anything which is upsetting or unpleasant for your cat may
stress it, such as going for very long periods without food or
water, overcrowding, movement to new territory, territorial
conflicts, sending your cat to be boarded for long periods of
time, or pregnancy and lactation. (Of course one should NEVER
breed a FeLV+ queen as it will expose not only the tom, but all
the kittens will be FeLV+. There is also an indication, although
no proof, that FeLV causes abortions in queens. For the same
reasons, neither should FeLV+ toms be bred.) Basically, keep in
mind things which you have noticed in the past that seriously
upset your cat. These are things which are more likely to lower
your cat's natural immune system and give a disease the chance to
I have an FeLV+ kitten that I have decided to keep. Should I have it
I've only encountered one case of a vet recommending not to spay a
kitten because it was FeLV+. Unfortunately, going into repeated
heat cycles was very stressful on her, and that owner believes it
caused her to suffer ill effects of the disease sooner than she
may have otherwise (of course there is no proof to this). It is
true that there is a small added risk to anesthetizing an FeLV+
cat, but that risk will well worth the alternatives. Especially
since a whole cat will have a very strong desire to roam, thus
further spreading the disease. In my personal experience, my vet
did a very careful screening to make sure my FeLV+ cat could
handle the anesthesia before operating. It really should not be
much of a problem, but always make sure if your cat needs surgery
that you remind the vet and staff that your cat is FeLV+.
Should I continue to vaccinate my cat if it is FeLV+?
The literature recommends against continued FeLV vaccinations. Other
feline vaccinations (panleukopenia, rabies, etc.) should be
I have had several cats for a long time. One of them recently tested
positive, but the others have not. Do I need to get rid of the FeLV+
This is a tough situation, for which there is no pat answer. You
should discuss the matter with your vet. One vet I spoke with felt
that chances are the other cats have already been exposed and it
is probably best to just keep them up on their vaccinations and
not change the household drastically. One study (Barlough, 1984)
says that in a survey of 45 households from which FeLV+ cats were
removed, 99.5% of the FeLV- cats remained negative. However
households in which the FeLV+ cats were not removed had infection
rates 40 times greater. It is probably best to remove the infected
cat if it can be sent to a good home without causing too much
disruption in your household, and your mental psyche.
I have an FeLV+ cat and I want to find it a playmate. What should I
There a few options. The only thing which you really ought NOT to do
is get a healthy cat as a playmate or let your cat outside for
excitement. Dogs cannot become infected with the Feline Leukemia
Virus, and some dogs and cats, especially those raised together
can be very close. One word of warning: getting a dog (or any pet)
for the sole reason of keeping a cat company is not a good idea.
If you consider getting a dog, make sure you understand the amount
of time and responsibility that goes into caring for a dog (which
is much more than that of a cat); otherwise you will regret the
decision and both you and the dog will suffer. (There are
excellent dog FAQs which will give you as much information on the
matter as you can handle).
Another option is getting a second FeLV+ cat. The obvious down
side is that you not only have twice the vet bills, but you also
put yourself at risk for twice the heart-ache when one or both
become ill. However, if you are willing to take the risk you can
search for FeLV+ cats by putting an ad in the newspaper and
calling all your local vets and animal shelters and explaining
your situation. They may put you on a list and should they receive
any cats which test positive, they may give you a call. Make sure
you give your current vet as a reference as most shelters and
other vets will want to make sure you understand the
responsibility of owning an FeLV+ cat or to make sure that you are
not some psychopath looking for sick kitty-cats to do nasty things
to (of course most people, especially your relatives, will think
you are a psychopath anyway, for keeping and seeking out more
I have an FeLV+ cat that is otherwise healthy, I do not want to put it
to sleep, but I can't keep it. What can I do?
Similar to the above answer, place ads in the newspaper and contact
your local shelters and vets and tell them you have an FeLV+ cat
which you are willing to give to a good home. A good home is
someone with another FeLV+ cat, or someone who does not have any
other cats and will keep the cat indoors. Also, there are animal
shelters which specifically take in FeLV+ cats. Again, contact
your local vets and shelters to see if they are aware of any such
haven to which you could send your cat. Almost all regular
shelters will put to sleep any cat they receive which tests
positive because the virus is so contagious. If you are going to
do this, however, you should understand that is it unlikely that
you will get instant results. If you expect to find a new home for
an FeLV+ cat within a few days of making inquiries, you can pretty
much forget it. Be prepared to hold on to the cat for a few weeks
at least, while searching for a new home.
One organization you may want to contact is the:
MILLER-ROTH Animal Organization
2000 E. Broadway #141
Columbia, MO. 65201
They have a 4-page factsheet on how to go about finding a FeLV+
cat a home that they will be happy to send it to anyone who sends
them a business-sized self-addresed STAMPED envelope or contact
them via email. Please contact them via email first, as this will
save everyone time, postage and paper costs. If that is
impossible, be sure to send them an SASE, as the extra expense of
paying postage would be quite a drain on their already low funds.
(Donations are always welcome, of course).
If you choose to put an ad in the paper you MUST take the
responsibility of making sure the people who express interest in
your cat are doing so for legitimate reasons. You should interview
them in person and check references if possible. There are people
who will lie to get cats to feed to other pets, to sell to labs or
to abuse. Think about this as you interview each potential
* CancerNet Factsheet is available via gopher to gopher.nih.gov
following the menu path Health and Clinical Information/CancerNet
Information/Fact Sheets from the NCI/Risk Factors and Possible
Causes. Or you can call the Cancer Information Service toll free
at 1-800-422-6237 (1-800-4-CANCER).
* Hardy, William D., Essex, Myron, and McClelland, Alexander J.
(eds). Feline Leukemia Virus. Elsevier/North-Holland, Inc. New
* Loar, Andrew S. "Feline Leukemia Virus: immunization and
prevention" in Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal
Practice. 23(1):193-211, 1993.
* Barlough, J.E. "Seriodiagnostic aids and management practice for
retrovirus and coronavirus infections" in Veterinary Clinics of
North America: Small Animal Practice 14(5):955-969, 1984.
* Olsen, R.G. et al "Oncogenic viruses of domestic animals: in
Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice
* Hardy, W.D. Jr, et al. "Biology for Feline Leukemia Virus in the
natural environment" in Cancer Res. 36:582, 1976.
* McClleland, A.J. et al. "Prognosis of healthy Feline Leukemia
Virus infected cats" in Rev. Cancer Res. 4:121, 1980.
* Rojko, J.L., and Hardy, W.D. Jr. "Feline Leukemia Virus and other
retroviruses" in The Cat: Diseases and Clinical Management, NY:
Churchill Livingston, 1989.
* Rojko J.L. et al. "Reactiviation of latent Feline Leukemia Virus
infection" in Nature (Lond.) 198:385, 1982.
* Also, the Journal of the Am. Vet. Med. Association, 199(10), Nov.
15, 1991 is devoted entirely to feline viral diseases.
This article is Copyright (c) 1995 by [ firstname.lastname@example.org]
All rights reserved, please ask about redistribution.
This URL is: http://www.dgsys.com/~ermiller/FeLV.html
Other FeLV sites of interest
http://web.vet.cornell.edu/public/fhc/felv.htm, from the Cornell
Feline Health Center
http://www.angelfire.com/il/felv Newer Methods For Treating FeLV+ Cats
(make sure you discuss these options with your vet)
http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Ranch/6167/ FeLV support site