Feline leukemia is a retrovirus that infects cats. It is deadly and contagious to other cats. Any cat owner who is familiar with this virus dreads it, and many shelters will automatically euthanize any cats that test positive for it.
It is a very complicated virus, and some cats who test positive can fight off the virus and test negative down the road. The re-test needs to be done in several weeks. Many shelters don’t have the facilities to isolate a cat while they wait to do a re-test, so in some cases potentially healthy cats are euthanized.
This summer, Katie’s Place received eight kittens from another shelter where they had tested positive for FeLV. The shelter did not have the facilities to isolate the kittens, nor did they want to euthanize eight healthy looking babies.
Katie’s Place was contacted and we offered to take them in with the hope that in six to eight weeks we would re-test and they would all test negative.
We converted one of our porches into an isolation pen and filled the space with beds, toys, litter boxes, and scratch posts. Everything that eight beautiful, bouncy kittens could want. Then we waited to see if the second test would be negative.
Although Katie’s Place has an area for FeLV cats where they can live out their lives, no one really wants to see any animal live in a shelter. While we do manage to find homes for some of our FeLV cats, the truth is the majority of them will call Katie’s Place their permanent home.
Feline leukemia is contagious to other cats. The virus is most persistent in saliva and nasal secretions, but can also be found in urine and feces. It can be transferred from one cat to another via a bite or mutual grooming and, rarely, through sharing a litter box and feeding dishes.
Although the virus does not survive long outside a cat’s body, cats who share a home with an infected feline are at a higher risk of contracting the disease.
Recent studies found that vaccines can be up to 98 per cent effective in protecting an uninfected cat, but nothing is 100 per cent effective.
Sooner or later, FeLV will kill. Feline leukemia is a common cause of cancer, blood disorders, and leads to a state of immune deficiency that leaves the cat unable to protect itself against secondary infections.
There is no treatment or cure for FeLV. The best that one can do is to try and keep cats strong and healthy. Some cats only live a few months after they are infected while others live for many years. Kittens who contract the disease in utero, or at a very young age, succumb to the disease quicker than cats who contract the virus later on in life.
Six weeks came and went and we re-tested the kittens. They all tested positive again and their fate was sealed.
At this stage, they are healthy, happy, crazy teenagers who play, run and do all those silly things that only kittens do. Chances are they will never see their second birthday. Two have found a permanent foster home that is willing to care for them for as long as they may have. Six of them remain at the shelter.
If you have no other feline companions, or a part of your house that you could spare for a year or two, please consider meeting our youngsters. You will not have to make a 20-year commitment. At best, they will be in your life for a couple of years. They will get sick and they will die. It will be painful, and you will shed tears.
If you take one or two of these kittens home, you won’t be doing it for yourself, you will be doing it strictly for them. You will be doing it so that they may know what a real home is, and what being loved really means.
And when they are gone, you will know that you did all you could and, if nothing else, these sweet little babies didn’t have to die in a shelter.
Magdalena Romanow is a volunteer at Katie’s Place, an animal shelter in Maple Ridge.