Feline Companions

Cat Care & Health

Feline Companions - Cat Care & Health

The Feline Leukemia Virus

Each year, we’re seeing more and more FeLV positive kittens born because there are too many cats on the street. One infected male cat feeding with a colony of strays can infect most if not all the cats in the colony. One infected female can do the same, and can produce positive kittens. (Note: A study has recently revealed that not all kittens born to a FeLV positive mother will carry the FeLV virus. Kittens may show a false positive elisa test result from antibodies received from the mothers colostrum.) Although the male does not pass the virus through mating, the female is likely to get the virus by grooming off the male’s saliva.

FeLV in Cats

Feline Leukemia is not cancer of the blood. That’s human leukemia. Feline Leukemia is a virus that weakens the cats immune system and leaves it open to infection, illness and disease. Two of the prominent illnesses FeLV positive cats fall prey to isLymphosarcoma (malignant cancer of the lymphatic system) and FIP, (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) a fatal virus. (Note: There is an intra-nasal vaccine against FIP.) Generally, FeLV positive cats live 3 to 4 years after becoming infected with the virus. We have had one positive cat live for 9+ years and we’ve had kittens expire at 3 to 4 months. Every cat is different, and with good nutrition and care, FeLV positive cats can live a very comfortable, although shorter than normal life.

The virus is carried in the body fluids; the blood, saliva and urine, and cats can contract it by eating and drinking from the same food and water as an infected cat or by using the same litter box or outside area, coming into contact with the urine of an infected cat. It is “Species Specific”, communicated between cats only, and is NOT contageous to humans. One lady who called said she foster cared a positive cat which sneezed on her cats and transmitedFeLV to her animals. Yes, it can be transmitted in this manner. The virus has a relatively short life span outside the cat. It can survive in a wet environment, such as a litter box, food and water, for several hours and on a dry surface for only a few minutes.

The virus is readily killed by a strong solution of hot, soapy water or a 5% solution of chlorine bleach and hot water. For litter boxes, wash first in soap and hot water, then bleach. Do not pour bleach solution directly into a soiled litter box as the combination of ammonia from the urine and chlorine is hazardous to both humans and animals when inhaled.

There are no obvious outward signs of FeLV. Positive cats look just like any other cat. Exposure to the virus is detected by a blood test. There are two blood tests used to diagnose FeLV. Most people do not understand the purpose of and difference between these tests. The ELISA, an Enzyme-Linked Immunoabsorbent Assay, is a simple blood test that can be done in the vet’s office. It is a test for the P-27 protein which has been found to adhere to FeLV virus antibodies. This test shows that the cat has been
exposed to the virus. It is not a test for infection with the virus and a positive elisa does not mean the cat has FeLV. Some cats are born with a natural immunity and not all exposed cats will contract the virus. All exposed cats will test elisa positive. For this reason, the vet will usually recommend that a positive elisa be repeated in a month. If the repeated elisa is negative, it means that the cat has successfully withstood exposure to the virus and is negative. The test results may not be accurate when performed on a sick cat as illness can reduce FeLV antibody production or on a kitten under 14 weeks of age due to the immunity provided by the colostrum. The second test is the IFA, the Immunoflourescece Antibody, also known as the
Immunoflourescece Assay and Hardy Test This is the definitive test for FeLV. Through use of a flourescent-labled antibody it shows a reaction that detects antigen present on or within cells. Special dyes and an ultraviolet microscope are required to see the reaction. It reveals the presence of live antibody production so as to establish the positive diagnosis. A cat can test positive on the elisa and later retest negative but a positive IFA will never repeat negative and is proof positive that the cat is infected. Several years ago, we took two elisa positive cats from another rescue group. They were brothers, both Flame Point Siamese. When I got them, I did the elisa test on both. One tested negative. I scooped him up and brought him to the vet, where they caged him, drew blood and sent an elisa out to the lab to confirm and document my test result. He was negative. Basing a positive diagnosis on an elisa alone would have condemned him to live out his life in a feline leukemia colony. So, why, you ask, don’t rescue groups do IFA’s on elisa positive cats? The cost. Some vets charge as much as $50 or more for an IFA.

Should FeLV positive cats be vaccinated? Absolutely, as long as the cat is healthy. No sick cat, positive or negative, should ever be vaccinated until it is well. Without vaccinations, they have no resistance to fatal viruses. Although they are not as effective as they would be in an FeLV negative cat, vaccines will allow their bodies to produce antibodies against the most common viruses, some of which are airborne. People have called and asked me if vaccinations cause skin cancer. I’ve heard it can happen but I’ve never seen it happen and it’s never happened to any of our cats.

So, what is one to do with a Feline Leukemia positive kitty?

For sure, it has to be kept away from negative cats. It should be in a comfortable, cozy environment, with frequent human contact, not in a cage. It should receive good nutrition. Illness or infection must be treated immediately and aggressively.

There is one very important point I want to make regarding the vaccine against Feline Leukemia. It will not protect the cat against continuous or frequent contact with an infected cat. If you have a positive cat, you can not adopt a vaccinated negative cat as a companion and expect that it will not conract the virus. The vaccine affords about 80% protection against accidental exposure.

There are about 9 different strains of FeLV. Not all are aggressive. One causes non-regenerative anemia, a condition in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the cat doesn’t have the ability to reproduce them. If you have a FeLV+ cat that becomes acutely anemic, it may have that strain of the virus. This can be determined by having a blood test called a “Reticulocyte Cell Count” done. Reticulocutes are newly formed red blood cells. A below normal reticulocyte count would indicate that the anemia is non-regenerative. Unfortunately, this condition is irreversable. Blood transfusions will not save the cat. Non-regenerative anemia is fatal.

Recently, I was asked a question regarding the transmission of the different strains of FeLV between positive cats in anFeLV colony. Two vets I conferreed with both agree that there is an extremely high likelihood that cats in an FeLV colony can pass different strains of the virus to each other.

We do not euthanize healthy positive cats. They have no idea that they have a fatal illness and they don’t worry about it. Without this worry, which plagues so many humans with terminal illnesses, cats can live without the stress that frequently makes the human condition worse. The cat just goes from day to day looking forward to doing all the things cats do.

Eileen J. Poole, A.C.S.

Questions or comments about Feline Leukemia or other cat related issues? We’ll be glad to help. Contact us By phone (New York City area) at (718) 847-3293 or e-mail at


Feline Companions, Inc.

P.O. Box 180303

Richmond Hill, NY 11418-0303

Tel; (718) 847-3293

e-mail us at: Felinecompanion@AOL.com

Cats and Steroids

When most people think of steroids, they think of the pills athletes and body builders take to build their muscles and enhance their strength. These are a special kind of steroids, called anabolic steroids. I’ve never seen a muscle-bound pussycat. The steroids used by veterinarians are primarily anti-inflammatory drugs which affect the cats entire system.


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If you would like information about Feline Holistic alternatives to steroids and other medications with serious side effects, as well as natural diets for animals, please click on the banner below and visit Shirley’s Wellness Cafe.

Please note: The information we provide is based on research and personal experience. We are not veterinarians and do not diagnose conditions or prescribe treatment or medications. We can, however, discuss certain conditions based upon our knowledge of and experience with them.

Questions or comments? Please let us hear from you.

Feline Companions, Inc.

P.O. Box 180303

Richmond Hill, NY 11418 – 0303

Tel: (718) 847-3293

e-mail: Felinecompanion@AOL.com

Many cats placed on long term steroid therapy are seriously ill. Some of the severe side effects take a long time to develop. If your vet prescribes steroid therapy for your cat, be sure you discuss the treatment with him or her and thoroughly understand instructions regarding the dosage and administration. Used appropriately, steroid therapy can help your cat live a longer, more comfortable life.

No one can say for sure if there are any psychological or emotional side effects in the cat. NSAIDS (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs) cannot be used on cats if they contain an analgesic (pain reliever), such as aspirin or acetaminophen, both of which are extremely toxic to cats. (Cats are unable to metabolize the components in aspirin and other analgesics. Their systems don’t break down the ingredients as humans do and different compounds form. In the cats system, aspirin converts to cyanide.) Suppression of the cats immune system is a side effect which must be seriously considered before long term treatment is begun.

Because of the seriousness of the side effects, long term steroid use is reserved for situations such as malignant cancers, when it is deemed the most appropriate course of action to treat the illness and keep the cat as comfortable as possible. Each case is different and the vet must evaluate the cat’s condition to determine if the benefits outweigh the risk of side effects, but in any case, long term therapy must be closely monitored.

Steroids used properly can be extremely beneficial. They are used primarily to reduce tissue inflammation and to treat allergic reactions and asthmatic conditions. In the case of flea bite allergy, the vet will usually give a steroid injection about once a month to treat the symptoms. This treatment is very effective and won’t harm the cat. Basically, vets use two types of steroids, short acting and long acting. They can be administered in the form of injections or pills. The pill therapy cannot be stopped abruptly. The dose must be reduced gradually over a period of days, weeks, or even longer, depending upon the length and dose of therapy.

These medications can be used for a variety of reasons, but whatever the reason, no competent vet will use steroids indiscriminately. Steroids don’t cure anything. They are very powerful drugs and if used inappropriately, they can mask symptoms of a serious illness and weaken the cats immune system. These drugs have severe side effects and if used improperly, can bring harm to the cat.

Your Cat’s Blood Tests, Cultures, and Biopsies

What’s the point in doing blood work? The cat has a sniffle, not the plague. Or it needs dental work, not a transfusion. I come home from my doctor with a band aid on my wrist (my only good vein) when I just go in for a routine checkup. The vampire strikes again.

Tests for Cats

If there’s one thing my doctor (the vampire) has taught me in the past 18 years it’s that the blood reveals all. A CBC, or Complete Blood Count, tells him if I’ve become anemic (low red cell count), or if I have an infection (high white cell count), or a virus (low white cell count), or if my blood isn’t clotting properly (low platelet count), and other factors. In many instances, one single value which is high or low may not be significant in and of itself. It tells the doctor that there may be something going on and points him in the right direction. The real significance lies in evaluating all factors and reaching a conclusion based on symptoms and blood test results. Then, we have a diagnosis.

Blood chemistry tells us a lot, too. With cats, it’s not too much different. In multi-cat households, generally considered to be five or more cats, which quite a few of us have, it’s not unusual to see an elevated creatinine level due to the stress factor. But, if both the creatinine and B.U.N. (blood urea nitrogen) are elevated, there may well be an underlying kidney problem. Combine this with an elevated white cell count, and it could be a kidney infection. Albumin is a protein manufactured by the liver. Bilirubin is a bile pigment made by the liver. Since liver disease can become quite advanced before symptoms become evident, early detection in the treatable stage is very important.

Glucose is blood sugar. Cats can be diabetic. Elevated dehydrogenase and globulin
are very often an indication of F.I.P. Old cats are like old people. Things can sneak up on us and go unnoticed or be attributed to “getting old” and we don’t go to the doctor for them until they hit us like a brick wall. Kitty’s not acting right, seems a little droopy. Maybe it’ll go away if I wait a few days. What’ll go away? The “droopy” or the “kitty”?

Doing blood work doesn’t just give the doctor a basis for diagnosis. If it’s done on a schedule, say, once a year for cats over 7 years old, it can establish a baseline as to the cat’s normal blood values. If the cat becomes ill, the doctor can do bloods and tell if changes are current and significant and a potentially serious problem may be uncovered early enough to treat it successfully. Cats get a lot of things we get. They can be hyper or hypothyroid, diabetic and anemic. They get diseases of the heart, which may sometimes be associated with other diseases. They get cancers, benign tumors and cysts. Diagnosis is critical. Treatment must be specific. Which brings us to …

“Cultures” & “Biopsies”

Back in high school, we put a little spot of something into a little flat glass dish of gooky stuff, put the lid on and came back a few days later to see if anything fuzzy grew in it. (My kid used to do the same thing with leftovers in the refrigerator.) Basically, what we were doing was growing cultures. It was about as exciting as watching grass grow. In the case of infections, cultures are important. There is no one antibiotic that is effective against all kinds of infections. Different infectious bacillus are sensitive to different antibiotics, meaning, only the antibiotics they are sensitive to will kill the bacteria. There are bacteria which can grow without the presence of air. If the wrong antibiotic is used, an infection will spread and can become systemic, spreading throughout the system and sometimes, reaching the point where it kills the cat. Massive systemic infection, resulting in sepsis, resulting in death.

The proper way to identify a growth is to biopsy it. This involves surgically removing a tiny piece of tissue and sending it to a lab, where a pathologist examines it and sends a report of his or her findings back to the vet. Proper treatment can then be applied.

Your Vet does blood work, cultures and biopsies so he or she can get the most accurate diagnosis to treat your cat properly and take the very best care of it. Nothing is more frustrating than taking the kitty back because it’s not getting better. You want it done right the first time. Diagnostic testing is an important, life-saving tool. It can rule out and confirm suspected illness, uncover hidden problems and help your cat live a long, healthy life.

Feline Companions, Inc.
P.O. Box 180303
Richmond Hill, N.Y. 11418-0303

(718) 847-3293
e-mail: Felinecompanion@AOL.com

Welcome to Feline Companions

A NYS not-for-profit Public Information & NO KILL All-Volunteer “Special Needs” Cat & Kitten rescue group.

Feline Companions

Specializing in the hospice care of FeLV+ & FIV+ and severely disabled cats & kittens. We offer info on FeLV, FIV & other cat health issues and interesting tidbits about our rescued kitties.

Feline Companions, Inc. was formed in 1996 to inform the public regarding animal welfare & feline health and care issues and to rescue and find loving homes for stray cats and kittens with and without disabilities. The Directors have rescued independently and in affiliation with cat rescue groups for many years. All of our rescued cats & kittens live with us in our home. We presently care for nearly 50 cats & kittens, most of which are FeLV or FIV positive, chronically ill or physically disabled. None of them are confined to cages. Our blind, FIV + cat, Spots, is over 12 years old. Sunny is FeLV+ and has been with us since 1993. Two of our FeLV + cats are over 7 yrs. old, two are over 6 yrs. old and several are over 5 years old. All our positive & disabled cats are otherwise healthy.

Liz is President and has been involved in cat rescue & care for over 25 yrs.

Eileen is an Animal Care Specialist and Feline Consultant specializing in the care of FeLV+, FIV+ and chronically ill cats. (over 30 yrs. in cat care & rescue)

Sandii holds a B.S. in nursing and has managed a cat sanctuary. (45+ yrs. in animal care)

All the volunteers in Feline Companions, Inc. are dedicated to animal welfare, rescue and public education regarding feline health and feline-related issues. This is a PRO CLAWS, ANTI-CRUELTY & ANIMAL ADVOCACY Web Site. We are not veterinarians and the information we provide is based upon research, info from veterinarians and personal experience. We do not prescribe medications or treatment, but can discuss certain conditions based upon our knowledge of and experience with them.

Please note: We can not take in any animals at this time. New cats can carry hidden illnesses that can affect those here and the stress of having too many together affects all their health. Since 9/11/01, donations for our cats have dwindled to almost nothing. Liz and I must pay for all the cats vet care and expenses out of our own pockets.

Please e-mail us for links to other “Special Needs” Rescue Groups.
For further info and to send a donation please contact us at:

Feline Companions, Inc.
P.O. Box 180303 or click on this button to

Richmond Hill, NY 11418-0303 make a donation online:

Tel: (718) 847- 3293 e-mail : Felinecompanion@aol.com

Please sign our Guest Book and leave your comments…

Eileen J. Poole, A.C.S. (Exclusively Cats), Feline Consultant, FeLV& FIV Specialist; Owner/Senior Administrator of Cat Chat; consultant on Veterinary Medicine, Cats and Cat Lovers forums on About.com