Saving FeLV Cats: Your FeLV Questions Answered

By Monica Frenden

Monica Frenden | September 25th, 2019

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is a virus that attacks the immune system of a cat. It isn't a form of cancer, but it is a retrovirus that affects the immune system. Cats with FeLV can live normal, happy, healthy lives, though they may have a shorter life expectancy than FeLV negative cats. Historically, cats with this disease have been euthanized as soon as they are diagnosed. Austin Pets Alive! has taken a different stance. We believe these cats are equally deserving of adoption, love, and care.

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on FeLV.

Is FeLV contagious?

FeLV is contagious only to other cats. It is not contagious to dogs, humans, or other non-feline species. The virus is not transmitted by air or fomite, and it dies rapidly in the environment. You don't have to worry about carrying the virus on clothes when you leave the house nor should you worry about having guests over.

FeLV is spread primarily between queen to kitten, mating, and, although less frequent, through prolonged and repeated intimate sharing of body fluids such as saliva, urine, or feces. For this reason, FeLV cats should only cohabitate with other FeLV cats and should remain indoors.

How is FeLV diagnosed?

At APA!, screening for FeLV begins with an IDEXX ELISA SNAP® test. Incongruous test results are possible with all FeLV tests, in which case APA! may retest the cat at a later date or run additional laboratory diagnostics.

Test results may indicate a result beyond a simple “positive” or “negative.” Many cats are labeled “discordant”, meaning their test results are fluid, have changed, or are continuing to change throughout the cat’s life. Additionally, there are differing stages and types of FeLV infection such as latent, regressive, focal, abortive, and progressive infection. Read more about these differing stages and types here.

Are the FeLV+ cats available for adoption sickly?

No. Cats with FeLV are just as happy and healthy as other cats available for adoption. Because the virus affects the immune system, cats with FeLV can be more susceptible to illness. This makes it important to limit stress, feed a high quality diet, schedule normal veterinary exams, and address health problems as soon as they arise. You wouldn't know a cat had FeLV by just looking at her/him. Many people have FeLV+ cats in their home and don't even know it because they were never tested.

Do FeLV+ cats need special medication or care?

No medication or special care is needed when FeLV+ cats are healthy. If and when they do get sick, they may become sick rather quickly and will need aggressive treatment because of their compromised immune system. When you adopt a FeLV+ cat from APA!, we provide free lifelong medical care for illnesses related to the virus. You can learn more about this program at our Maddie’s Feline Lifesaving Masterclass.

Why do shelters usually euthanize FeLV+ cats?

There are many myths about feline leukemia. As a result, shelters may have unfounded fears of transmission or may deem the cats unadoptable. Learning the truth about FeLV and then educating your staff, fosters, and volunteers can help debunk these myths. While some shelters and rescues, like Austin Pets Alive!, have the ability to find live outcomes for hundreds of FeLV cats each year, we must continue to grow our FeLV programs nationwide. Together, we can ensure that all FeLV+ cats are given the chance at a foster or adoptive home and make their at-risk status a thing of the past.

For more information about FeLV join our live webinar on October 16, 6pm CST.

Register Now

“Don't Fear FeLV: Feline Leukemia as the Next Frontier of Feline Lifesaving” hosted by experts Monica Frenden and Natascha Hamman as they blow the doors open on feline leukemia! Using the latest research, shatter misconceptions and bring you current on every must-know details. You'll learn the best practices in shelter housing, testing, and treatment.


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