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Shelter Medicine: To Test or Not to Test

Confronting feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus

Confronting feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus

Just because a cat tests positive for FIV or FeLV doesn’t mean he has a clinical disease; it only points to possible infection. Tests are not always accurate, and no healthy cat should be euthanized based on the results of only one.
Feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency (FIV) viruses are always near the top of the list when shelter workers discuss diseases of concern. Despite the more devastating effect that upper respiratory infections, ringworm, and feline distemper can have on the shelter’s feline population, FeLV and FIV always seem to generate greater discussion, due to the fact that both diseases cause life-threatening problems, and diagnostic testing is required to detect infection.

Luckily, shelter outbreaks of FeLV or FIV are not common because the viruses are not highly transmissible, cause chronic infection rather than acute disease, do not survive outside the body long-term, and are easily killed by disinfection. And in shelters increasingly able to find homes for animals with health issues, positive results on an FeLV and FIV test may no longer constitute automatic cause to euthanize otherwise healthy individuals. Studies have shown that with good preventative health care, some FeLV- and FIV-infected cats can live for many years after diagnosis.

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