Two loved kitties have a happy home - can we stay that way?
August 22, 2009 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Feline leukemia: one cat has it, one cat doesn't. Tell me your stories...

I've had Whisper for 4 years now. He's so cute and I love him much more than he loves me. About a month and a half ago, I immediately fell in love with and adopted a stray (Gizmo) that a friend found. She's the sweetest, cuddliest little thing, but she's also positive for feline leukemia (tested twice 3 weeks apart). Otherwise, she's perfectly healthy and growing and gaining weight. Whisper's in the process of getting boosters and they're being kept separate for another month and a half.

I've been told (and read stories) that it's rare for a vaccinated adult cat to get the virus. Have you ever had a positive cat live with a negative cat with no repercussions on the negative's health? On the other hand, have you kept a positive cat with a negative cat and found out that the negative cat acquired the virus at some point?

Looking for lots of anecdata here so I can try and figure out what to do. I need cuddly in my life, so I'm hesitant to give up the new sweet kitty to whom I'm already VERY attached if I don't have to.
posted by to Pets & Animals (8 answers total)
My family had a very old cat with it and we didn't know until after we had adopted two kittens. It didn't transmit and while the old cat passed away (we estimated he was twenty or so when he died), the two younger ones are still going strong at nine.

Unfortunately, the addendum to the story is that there was a third kitten who we found abandoned outside who was very sickly. He was sickly from the get go and tested positive...we never figured out if he got it from the old cat or his mother. He passed away before he was one.
posted by melissam at 10:29 AM on August 22, 2009

Oh, I'm so sorry. We adopted a sweet kitten who turned out to be positive. We had two adult cats. We thought that both were vaccinated; sadly, only one was. The kitten died within 6 months. The unvaccinated cat did get it, but he lived for 5 or so more years and had a full life.

We actually adopted a 6 month old cat while the positive cat was alive. New cat got vaccinated, and lived in the car for a couple weeks until the vaccine kicked in, with no contact with positive cat. After that, we brought new cat in, everybody lived together normally, and new cat never caught it. Indeed, I seem to remember that all this happened in 1991, and new cat is still alive today!

So at least in my experience, the vaccine has worked very well.
posted by sesquipedalian at 11:11 AM on August 22, 2009

We'd had Sparky for about four years when we adoped a stray male adult that had started hanging around our house. We took Frisky (Dad named them both, Mr. Creative) to the vet to get him cleaned up, neutered and shot-ted, and a few days later the vet called with the sad news that Frisky tested postivie for Feline Leukemia. He advised keeping him separated from Sparky, even though Sparky was vaccinated. (This was back in the mid-1980s, so I'm sure the meds/vaccines have improved since then.) (Oh, and they were both strictly indoor cats.) Well, it was impossible to keep them apart - they napped together, played together, etc. The vet told us that unless Frisky bit Sparky and broke the skin, chances are Spark would be OK. As it turned out, Sparky died at age nine of something totally unrelated, and Frisky lived for another eight years after that. He was robust and healthy for the majority of that time, but when he did get ill from the leukemia, his health deteriorated somewhat quickly. He lost weight, stopped eating, slowly dropped drinking and we had to make that decision no pet owner wants to make.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:26 AM on August 22, 2009

We have had two negative cats for 11 years. In 2000 we adopted a kitten who tested positive and immediately had both of the other cats vaccinated. We maintained their boosters, and the new kitty (Babycat) had a pretty good three years until she passed away in 2002. Just last February, we adopted another kitten who tested positive - both of the older, negative cats, have had constant boosters since 2000, and after a month of separate living, they now mingle freely, sharing litter boxes, water bowls and snuggles. We have had the negative cats tested several times over the years, and they have remained clean of the virus. This new kitty, Tiny Terror, is now about 8 months old and uber-healthy so far.

Our vet here did not want us to let the cats mingle, but we have had several other vets (who we trusted more) assure us that as long as we kept up with the boosters that everyone would be fine - and so far, that has been the case. It is always a risk to let a sick cat mingle with healthy one, but the vaccine seems to have worked, at least for our kitties.

Kudos to you for loving a feleuk positive kitty - they have lots and lots of joy to share - good luck!
posted by dirtmonster at 3:37 PM on August 22, 2009

I and my FELV+ cat (who I'd had for about six years--tested positive at adoption) moved in with my husband and his FELV- cat when we married. My cat lived for another four years. His (who was vaccinated and always had her boosters) has shown no sign of FELV so far. We adopted another stray who then tested positive--we've had her for almost a year now with no issues with his cat or our other FELV- cat (again, vaccinated, with boosters).

I really think that a lot of the warnings about keeping them separate come from a day when the vaccines weren't as strong and vets were being extra-cautious. As I recall, FIV used to have more stringent warnings than today also.
posted by dlugoczaj at 5:37 PM on August 22, 2009

When I adopted Amber, my roommate at the time adopted Corona. They were roughly the same age but from different litters and different adoption places. I had Amber vaccinated; roommate failed to do the same for Corona. Amber and Corona were the best of buds - they groomed each other, slept together. A year, maybe two, down the road, Corona suddenly fell ill and the vet put her down; her blood tested positive for feline leukemia.

At that time, I had Amber tested; she was negative and continued to be negative till she passed earlier this year. She was 16 by then.

In this case, it's possible that Amber infected Corona, though I'll refrain from chasing that particular thought too much.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 7:58 PM on August 22, 2009

By the way, those are some awesome photos of the kitties in question!
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 7:59 PM on August 22, 2009

Emmy was a feral I found in a terrible state when she was about 8 months old - I had her for 6 years and for the whole of those 6 years she lived happily alongside my then 3 other cats. At 3 years old she kept getting a variety of infections which were slow to respond to treatment - eventually bloods were collected and sent away to the USA for testing (there was no snap test for FeLv in the early '80s in the UK and no vaccine) Her results came back positive. Eventually she succumbed to lymphosarcoma. I had the other 3 cats tested when Emmy's positive result came back, 2 were negative but Toby was positive. Toby and Emmy never groomed each other or fought - Emmy was much the loner, so I don't believe that Emmy infected Toby - most infection happens via bloody fights, sex and in utero. Toby came with his sister Tabitha as kittens from a stray female rescued by friends - we heard later that Toby's mother was FeLv positive, but she outlived her son. Tabitha remained FeLv negative throughout her 17 yrs. Toby finally got the straight leukaemia form of the disease and died aged ten.

Since then I've fostered many cats - some have been FeLv positive and after a settling in period, some (ones with no active disease) have been allowed to have a supervised mingle with my (FeLv negative + fully vaccinated adult cats) There has been no cross infection. My adult cats remain negative.

One key to providing a long happy life to an FeLv positive cat is a life with as little stress as possible. Stress fires up the active disease quicker than anything else, due to its effect on the immune system. Great nutrition and prompt veterinary attention for any health issues are essential too. Vaccinations for FeLv positive cats to cover them for other viral threats are also essential. The FeLv cat can also be at risk from possible infections from FeLv negative cats too!

I'd vote for keeping darling Gizmo, she's growing, she's putting on weight - she's healthy for now. Definately keep up the vaccinations for Whisper. Allow them extra time for introductions. Do what you can to keep their relationship happy and relaxed. I would also suggest testing Gizmo every 3 months throughout her first year of life to establish whether she is truely FeLv positive. Kittens can take a while to develop their immunity, despite the standard 3 week, single repeat protocol that the test manufacturers recommend to vets. In the last ten years I've fostered two kittens that have shifted from positive to negative over their first six months. If I'd relied on the single repeat at 3 weeks, each kitten would have been incorrectly marked as FeLv positive and may not have been easily rehomed.

This page gives a good overview of testing protocols and this page from the Feline Advisory Bureau gives more information on why you might want to get Gizmo a Virus Isolation test in addition to the in-practice snap test your vet carried out - if you haven't done so already.

Best of luck, Gizmo is a little darling. :)
posted by Arqa at 1:45 AM on August 23, 2009

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