The great thing about cats is that they are superb at being
independent and social companions. Most cats enjoy spending time outside playing
with other felines. As a pet parent, it is very important that you are aware of
some possible dangers associated with having your cat freely roaming outdoors.
Since the 1960’s, Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus
(FIV) have been spreading amongst the feline population worldwide. While these
two diseases are preventable, they are contagious and potentially fatal if they
are not detected early enough. The good news is that vaccines are available to
decrease the chances that your feline will catch FeLV or FIV.
FeLV is commonly referred to as the ‘friendly cat disease’ since
it’s transferred via saliva. Your cat can catch FeLV through sharing water bowls
or even grooming an infected cat. On the other hand, FIV is transmitted through
bite wounds and cat fights. Since males tend to be more involved in territorial
fighting they are at an even higher risk of catching FIV. It is imperative to
note that these viruses cannot be passed on to humans, dogs or other pets.
Feline immunodeficiency virus closely resembles HIV in humans.
The virus attacks your cat’s immune system and may not show any signs until
several years later. Another sinister aspect of FIV is that the symptoms can
mimic other common illnesses, making it even harder to detect.
FeLV is somewhat different in its plan of attack. Feline
leukemia virus goes after your cat’s genetic coding. This maneuver allows the
virus to continue to reproduce infected cells at an alarming rate. Some cats are
able to eliminate the infection before becoming sick. Other cats will carry and
spread the disease despite never getting sick themselves. This virus can hide in
bone marrow until it eventually surfaces in the form of many general symptoms.
There are several warning signs associated with FeLV and FIV;
however, not every infected cat will exhibit the same red flags. Your cat may
initially develop a fever or become suddenly and extremely fatigued, important
indicators that something may be wrong. Other chronic issues include respiratory
infections, dental and gum infections, bone marrow issues and certain cancers.
Also, if your kitty starts losing weight, having chronic diarrhea, or develops
chronic infections of the skin and eyes, make an appointment to see your vet
Your vet will perform a SNAP test to accurately determine if
your cat is infected with FeLV or FIV. The test is quick and requires only a
small blood sample. FIV is predominantly diagnosed through this blood sample
alone. A bone marrow sample, in addition to the initial blood sample, may be
required to successfully determine a positive FeLV result.
Since FeLV and FIV are so complex, re-testing may be necessary.
For example, if a kitten’s mother is infected with FIV or FeLV, the kitten may
test positive at a young age. However, over time, their immune systems may be
able to fight and overcome the infection, eventually resulting in a disease-free
kitty. In contrast, if the FeLV virus is in the early stages and has not fully
developed, it may not show up in the initial results. Later tests, further into
the virus’ progression, will ultimately lead to a clear diagnostic result.
Early detection, treatment, and proper nutrition are essential
for your cat to live as long and comfortably as possible. If your feline does
test positive for FeLV or FIV, then they will require premium nutritional
support since their bodies will be stressed and weakened from the virus. Make
sure that the food you feed provides an optimal balance of vitamins, proteins,
and antioxidants, to give your feline the best chance at maintaining strength
and general well being. In cases like these, pet parents should strongly
consider augmenting meals with nutritional supplements to further boost health
If your cat tests positive for FeLV or FIV, I recommend that
they make the transition to strictly indoor living. When immune systems are
compromised, going outdoors could increase their risk for catching other
viruses, parasites, or infections. Your cat will also be in harm’s way if they
sustain any wounds from cat fighting or other traumatic events. Resulting
injuries may not heal properly and might even become infected. You should
isolate any infected cats or kittens from other cats to avoid further
contamination. It is essential to test any new cats or kittens that you may be
bringing home for FeLV and FIV.
As a feline pet parent it is great to provide your cat with the
independence that they crave. However, you should pay close attention to any
changes in the overall health or physical appearance of your outdoor cat. Early
detection could be the key to saving your cat’s life.
Thank you so much for all you do to make the world a better
place for companion animals.
Dr. Jane Bicks