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.)

PLEASE NOTE: This FAQ is dated 1995. There are no plans to update this reference. I believe the materials to still be useful to cat owners, but I recommend you do an Internet search, such as at www.google.com on Feline Leukemia Virus to gather more current information. A good place to start is http://web.vet.cornell.edu/public/fhc/felv.html


Last updated April 20, 1998.


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?

I've heard FELV is like AIDS. Can I catch AIDS or anything else from it?

What is a retrovirus?

How is it transmitted?

Will I infect my healthy cat if I pet an FeLV+ cat, then pet my cat?

What does the virus do to a cat?

Is there a vaccine?

If I don't get my cat vaccinated, what are its natural defenses against the virus?

Is the vaccine expensive and how often do my cats need to be vaccinated?

If I get my cat vaccinated, isn't there a chance that it will catch the virus from the vaccine?

Is there any risk in getting my cats vaccinated?

Do I have to get my cats vaccinated?

My cats are indoors-only. Why should I bother getting them vaccinated?

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 the vaccine.

My cat gets sick after it gets vaccinations. Why should I put my cat through that?

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 diseases)?

How is FeLV detected?

So some cats who test positive can later test negative?

Is it possible for a cat to test negative when it really is positive?

How long does a cat who tests positive have to live?

What are symptoms for which I should be on the lookout?

My cat recently passed away from FeLV. How long should I wait before getting another cat and are there any special precautions I should take?

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 FeLV+ cat.

My cat has tested positive. Should it be put to sleep?

What will happen to my cat now that it has tested positive?

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?

I have an FeLV+ kitten that I have decided to keep. Should I have it neutered/spayed?

Should I continue to vaccinate my cat if it is FeLV+?

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+ one?

I have an FeLV+ cat and I want to find it a playmate. What should I do?

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?


Additional Readings

This article is Copyright (c) 1995 by [ ermiller@dgsys.com]
All rights reserved, please ask about redistribution.