What now?
November 7, 2008 2:16 PM   Subscribe

My kitten has been diagnosed as leukemia positive. What should I expect?

I adopted a very sweet 6 month old kitten from the humane society 2 months ago, and immediately fell in love with him. My roommate and I are very doting cat parents, and little Edward Appleby is as affectionate as they come. Everything was a picture of domestic bliss until I took him for his 8 month check up/vaccination vet appointment yesterday and was devastated to hear that his feline leukemia test was positive. His previous test had been negative, and they are sending out slides to double check, but my vet did not seem too hopeful that this would turn out to be a mistake.

My vet emphasized that now is not a time to panic, and that she has known FeLV+ cats that have lived long lives in spite of the virus, but I don't know what to expect. Internet results have given me mixed information--some people seem to advocate immediate euthanasia, some say the virus hasn't really affected their cats' lives. For what it's worth, Edward is an indoor kitty, and has not had any contact with other cats. My roommate and I both have cats living at our parents' houses, and the vet advised making sure to wash hands/clothes before visiting between the cats. Edward seems healthy right now, though he was fighting a persistant cold until recently.

I had been picturing him as a part of my life for a long time to come, and am really just trying to get a handle on what this will mean for our lives right now. If any mefites have experience with this and can offer advice or experience, it would mean a lot.
posted by ialwayscryatendings to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is sad. Sorry.

Hoping you get to keep her around for a long time, and I think you really need to wait for the test to come back and see what your vet says.

That's a bit of a weird diagnosis. I went to get my cat this shot when she was a kitten and was told she didn't need it if she was going to be an indoor cat and not around other cats.

I asked, "How do you know she doesn't have it now?" And was told, as he put it, "Feluke kills kittens." I didn't ask a timeline, but assumed he meant fairly quickly and that since I had a live cat I was good to go.

In older cats it reduces lifespan. I'm not sure when a cat is considered no longer a kitten. You need to ask these questions of your vet.

Great cat name btw.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:56 PM on November 7, 2008

I'm sorry too, that's never a fun thing to hear. But forewarned is forearmed. Personally, I would not put him down if his quality of life at the moment is good. Let him live until he starts to develop problems that affect his quality of life. Also, pay attention to his activity level and food intake, so that you will know if he's feeling bad and can get him to the vet. Anyway, he probably won't grow very large even if he lives more than a couple years. Which I hope he does, because that kitty name is too awesome to be cut short.

And now for my story: Our kitty was 1.5 yrs when he had to be put down due to complications from feline leukemia. He had a good, spoiled run of it and that was the only thing that comforted us after he went. In our case, the initial feluke test was negative, so we didn't even know he had it until he got really sick. Luckily, he didn't infect his big brother.
posted by ailouros08 at 4:22 PM on November 7, 2008

A few years ago, I adopted a kitten that turned out to have this same problem. Unfortunately, we had two other cats, and the humane society couldn't take it back, other than for euthanasia, for obvious reasons. We ended up putting her down. I wish we had tried to find a home that would take her in.

If you can keep the cat, and doing so will not endanger other animals, I would hope that you hold on to him. The fact is, his life is going to be shorter than it should. But were it not for my other cats, I would've held on to my positive kitten. It's hard to find a home for a positive kitten, and I'd rather be able to provide a few months or years of comfort and play than put her down immediately.

But it's your decision. You said you saw him as part of your life for a long time, and it will be hard when he eventually does go. If you don't think you can deal with that, then don't force yourself to do it. But I hope you seriously consider keeping him until he is no longer enjoying a good quality of life.
posted by punishinglemur at 6:30 PM on November 7, 2008

There's actually a no-kill shelter near me that has a whole floor of positive cats. The staff make sure to wash carefully when going between floors, and they keep that floor very sanitary. I spent about an hour up there, and the cats were wonderful. The volunteer told me that the cats can live pretty good lives, and that there's no reason to put them down if they're otherwise healthy.
I'd say spoil the little guy while you have him, get him the best care you can afford, and enjoy him.
posted by catwoman429 at 8:01 PM on November 7, 2008

I had two fe-leuk positive cats at one point (from different sources at completely different times and diagnosed separately after I'd gotten them). My first was said to be five or six when I got her, and she lived for five years after that. My second was a year or two old, and I had her for almost TEN years subsequently. My vet basically said she'd never seen an eleven-year-old FeLV cat.

They were both wonderful girls and I've never regretted having them. I believe your kitten may well be similar.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:21 PM on November 7, 2008

Just be sure to tell guests about your cats. Cat people pet cats. You don't want them going home sticky with your cats saliva.

It's not a big risk, but it's there.

If Edward needs a pal, you may be able to find him a friend who is also positive. It's not unusual for these guys to have relatively normal lives.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:28 PM on November 7, 2008

Because he is my only cat and we plan to keep him indoors, I am not at all considering putting him down now, when he has no apparent health problems. My plan is to keep him for as long as I can, though my main concern is that I will not be able to afford expensive treatments when and if he does become ill. I'll definitely be sure to tell guests to be careful about going home to their own kitties.

Thanks so much for your personal stories--it's helping me get a handle on what to expect. Of course it's good to hear stories like dlugoczaj 's, but I don't want to become unrealistically optimistic. Any more information would be appreciated!
posted by ialwayscryatendings at 6:55 AM on November 8, 2008

This is just anecdotal, but years ago my family adopted a stray cat that had been hanging around our house for a few months. We took him to the vet for his shots and to be neutered and then were informed that he'd tested positive for Fe-Leuk. We had another cat at the time, and were warned that Frisky (the new cat) could infect Sparky. (Imaginative names, I know; blame my dad.) Anyway, we decided to keep Frisky and try to keep the two separated (which we eventually gave up on, as the two became fast friends and always played and napped together.) A year later we took Frisky for his booster shots, and his leukemia test came back negative. They ran the test a second time; still negative. The vet said that either the first test was faulty, or perhaps Frisky had been exposed to the virus at the time he'd been originally been tested and had eventually fought it off. In any case, Frisky was an adult of undetermined age when we adopted him, and we had him for 12 years before he died of what the vet said were natural causes.

Best of luck with li'l Edward App!!
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:56 AM on November 8, 2008

It is possible that a further test a few months down the line will test negative. However if it doesn't, be assured that cats who are FeLv positive can lead happy and healthy lives albeit sometimes shorter ones than cats who are FeLv negative.

One of the big starters for cats to succumb to the health problems caused by FeLv is stress. If you can provide young Edward Appleby with a minimally stressful environment and life then this will help. He will need to be an indoor cat only. You will need to read up on what causes cats stress and learn a bit about cat behaviour so that you can provide for him in this department. Depending on his temperament and your willingness, it might be possible for you to adopt another FeLv cat to keep him company. Often these are the cats who never make it out of the shelters.

Throughout his life you need to remember that his immune system is compromised, so any infection he gets, such as a snuffly cold or a mild urinary tract infection can escalate rapidly without appropriate treatment. Even without opportunistic infections, he may be one of the third of positive cats who develop some form of cancer associated with FeLv. This page from the Cat Action Trust gives fairly detailed information on testing and prognosis, as well as management.

He will need regular parasite management and very good quality food. You will also need to be vigilant. A runny eye could be a bit of dust or it could be the start of flu. You'll need to arm yourself with a serious cat health book and have a vet who is not averse to giving you advice over the phone. Your vet sounds sensible to me. It might sound daunting now, but it is better to be prepared if you are to give this kitten a chance. Finding yourself panicking at 2am because you can't tell if he is breathing funny 'cos he's been running around or if he's in distress is no fun. It may not happen, but then again it might, being prepared is sensible.

If it was me, I would give young Edward Appleby the chance of a good life. It's a shocking thing to get the positive result, but I have known cats live good healthy lives whilst being infected. The call from people for instant euthanasia comes from the early days when the disease was first identified, back then, little was known about how to manage the life of an FeLv cat. These days, unless the cat is showing signs of serious illness, there is no need to take such terminal action.

I wish you and Edward Appleby all the best!
posted by Arqa at 2:37 PM on November 8, 2008

My god mother's childhood cat was born with leukemia (or rather it was transferred from mother to kitten) and lived to be 10 years of age. This was way back in the 1970's, so I'm betting long term care for this disease has advanced a fair bit since then. They didn't even have the vaccine (which is only preventative) for it until the early 1980's as far as I know. Also, our veterinarian rescued a street cat in 1998 that turned out to have the disease and he lived 10 more years as well, just passing away this spring.
posted by zarah at 1:44 AM on November 9, 2008

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