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FeLV & FIV in cats - what’s the risk?
July 24, 2019
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... It’s possible that you, like many others, may not know exactly what FIV and FeLV really means for a cat and how misunderstood our diagnosis can be. Making the commitment to adopt and care for a cat is a big decision; understanding FeLV and FIV can help you make the decision to give an overlooked feline friend their forever home! Are there any questions?”

Ambrose: “FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) is a common virus infecting 2-3 % of cats. FeLV is spread through bodily fluids such as urine, feces, milk, saliva, or nasal secretions. This can occur through completely normal cat interactions, such as cat to cat grooming or mothers nursing their kittens. 

FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus infecting 1.5 - 3 % of cats. FIV is spread mostly through bite wounds during aggressive fighting. FIV is usually not spread through casual non-aggressive interactions or sexual interactions; however, FIV occasionally spreads from mom to kittens through infected milk.

Both FIV & FeLV can only survive for a few hours once shed from the cat’s body (max is 48 hours). Once infected, both FeLV and FIV attack and suppress a cat’s immune system. As a result, FeLV and FIV infected cats are most at risk for secondary bacterial, protozoan, viral, or fungal infections. FeLV positive cats, specifically, are also at an increased risk of developing cancer or blood disorders.”

Ambrose: “Cats can be at risk for both FeLV and FIV if they live in a household with other cats that are known to be infected or have an unknown infection status. Nursing kittens are also at an increased risk since their immune systems are still developing and the virus can pass through their mother’s milk. Cats that roam or play outdoors unsupervised are at increased risk because it is possible they will come in contact with an infected cat. Unneutered male cats and cats living in a home with an unstable social structure resulting in fighting are at an increased risk for FIV because FIV is spread through bite wounds. 

FeLV and FIV have similar symptoms. Both can result in decreased appetite, weight loss, and diarrhea. They also both show signs of immunosuppression including enlarged lymph nodes, poor coat quality, eye conditions, seizures, gum and mouth inflammation, fever, and various infections. Symptoms sometimes come in waves, interchanging with periods of relative health. Often, it is hard to know if a cat is infected without blood testing and close monitoring. If your human notices any changes in your health, they should bring you to the veterinarian. At the vet, various blood tests can be performed to test for FeLV and FIV. While the tests are not 100% accurate, testing for these viruses is the first step in starting a discussion about potential infection and determining a course of action for supporting a FeLV or FIV positive cat.”

Ambrose: “While there is currently no cure for FeLV or FIV, there are vaccines for both. Vaccines for FeLV and FIV are not included in the core vaccines that cats receive and should be discussed with a vet in order to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of vaccination. However, there are ways to prevent these infections! 

The best ways for humans to help prevent both FeLV and FIV in cats include keeping cats indoors or monitoring outdoor play, testing all new cats entering the home, and monitoring cats for changes in health. In a home, infected cats should be housed separately from uninfected cats. In a shelter space, cats should not be housed with cats infected with other types of disease such as respiratory infections. Cats with FeLV and FIV are more susceptible to secondary infections that are less harmful to uninfected cats and may contract additional illnesses if kept around sick cats. To help decrease fighting and subsequent spread of FIV or FeLV, all cats should be spayed or neutered.”

Ambrose: “While an FeLV or FIV diagnosis can be a deterrent for adoption and seemingly devastating for a pet owner, it is important to note that cats diagnosed with both FeLV and FIV can live normal, full lives. Pet owners should use proper sanitation, separate infected and uninfected cats, and monitor their cat’s health to help all cats live fulfilled lives! Cats with FIV specifically should be fed nutritionally rich diets with no raw meat. Raw meat harbors bacteria that could cause infection and proper nutrition helps their suppressed immune system stay healthy. Cats positive for FeLV and FIV should also visit the vet every 6 months to ensure proper health.”

At Morris Animal Refuge we believe every kitty deserves a forever home and a happy life. FeLV and FIV positive cats are no exception! Click any of the links below to read more about these two viruses and remember to consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns about the health of your cat. This article is meant to be informative, but is not comprehensive. It is also important to mention that FIV & HIV are similar in how they affect cats & humans respectively; however, FIV is not zoonotic and will not transmit to humans.