WHAT IS FELV?
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), is a virus that attacks the immune system of a cat. It isn’t a form of cancer but is actually a virus that weakens the immune system. Cats with FeLV can live normal, happy healthy lives — they just have a much shorter life expectancy than FeLV negative cats.
IS FELV CONTAGIOUS?
Only to other cats. The virus is spread from cat to cat through saliva (sharing food bowls, grooming each other, etc.), urine, blood, and from mother cat to kittens during pregnancy. For this reason, we recommended that FeLV+ cats are kept indoors only. FeLV+ cats should only live with other FeLV+ cats. Feline leukemia is species-specific so other animals, such as dogs, cannot contract the virus. The virus itself is not airborne and dies rapidly in the environment. So, you won’t have to worry about carrying the virus on clothes when you leave the house or have friends over.
HOW IS FELV DIAGNOSED?
The screening for FeLV is generally an ELISA snap test (often in combination with the feline immunodeficiency [FIV] test). Cats older than 1 year of age who test negative tend to remain negative, even with exposure, due to natural resistance to infection at that age.
ARE THE FELV+ CATS AVAILABLE FOR ADOPTION SICKLY?
No. Our FeLV+ cats are just as healthy as the other cats available for adoption. They do, however, have an increased risk of getting sick. To keep them healthy, protect them from stress, feed a high-quality diet, take them to the vet regularly, and address health problems as soon as they arise. You wouldn’t know a cat had FeLV by just looking at it, and many people have FeLV+ cats in their home and don’t even know it because they never got them tested.
DO FELV+ CATS NEED SPECIAL MEDICATION OR CARE?
Not while they are healthy. When and if they do eventually get sick they will usually get very sick quickly and may need more care than a normal cat since their immune system doesn’t work as well. Some vet clinics recommend keeping FeLV+ cats on anti-viral drugs to help keep the virus from replicating, though the efficacy of these drugs is debatable.
WHAT MEDICAL ISSUES SHOULD I LOOK FOR POST–ADOPTION?
Moving into a new home can be stressful for any cat since they thrive on familiarity and consistency. Be aware that cats are generally very skilled at hiding their pain and discomfort. Prolonged stress can, in turn, lead to illness. If you adopt a FeLV+ cat, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of common stress-related illnesses that can appear post-adoption.
Not eating – if you suspect your cat has not eaten in 24 hours, try offering different kinds of wet food. We suggest starting with the smelliest, such as chicken or turkey baby food (without onions or garlic), or even scrambled eggs.
- Yellow or green nasal discharge
- Labored breathing
- Lethargy – your new cat should be inquisitive, yet shy. If they are unwilling to play, it might be a sign that they are getting sick.