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My Cat Has a Positive Feline Leukemia or FIV Test. Now What?

If you’ve recently obtained a cat or kitten, your veterinarian probably recommended testing for feline leukemia (FeLV) and perhaps for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) as well. Or perhaps you suspect your cat has been exposed to one of these viruses and your veterinarian recommended testing to find out about your cat’s status. Whatever the circumstance, you may be nervous about the test and wondering what to expect?

Both of these diseases are infectious in origin, caused by viruses within the class known as retroviruses. Testing for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus is performed with a small sample of blood. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) 2008 Retrovirus Management Guidelines, cats should be tested under the following circumstances:

  • “All cats should be tested at appropriate intervals based on risk assessment.
  • Test new cats entering a household or group housing as in shelter or cattery settings. Test again at least 60 days later, limiting exposure to other cats if possible during that time.
  • Test if exposed to a retrovirus infected cat at least once, 60 days after exposure.
  • Test all sick cats, regardless of previous test results.
  • Test before initial vaccination for FeLV or FIV.
  • Consider annual retesting of cats that remain at risk for infection, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Always confirm an initial positive retrovirus test.
  • Cats that donate blood or tissue should be tested for FeLV by real-time PCR (a specific type of test for FeLV) to rule out regressive infection that may be transmissible via transfusion or transplantation.
  • Testing healthy feral cats in trap–neuter–return programs is optional depending on resources and program goals.”

Fortunately, the greatest majority of cats will test negative. I did, thankfully. And now I lead a lifestyle that has very little risk of exposure. But what if your cat tests positive?

Any positive test should be followed up with a confirmatory test. A positive test for feline leukemia or for feline immunodeficiency virus should not be a reason to euthanize your cat. Otherwise healthy cats can live for years with positive tests for either FeLV or FIV. A positive test for either of these diseases should prompt special management procedures though.

  • Cats with positive feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus tests should be spayed or neutered and should be confined indoors.
  • They should be fed a diet that is complete and balanced. Raw diets are not recommended.
  • Parasite control programs to eradicate and/or avoid all parasites should be implemented. This is true of external parasites such as fleas and ticks as well as internal parasites such as intestinal parasites and heartworms.
  • All cats require regular veterinary examinations but these examinations are even more important for cats with positive FeLV or FIV tests.
  • Keep your cat’s vaccinations up-to-date. Vaccination protocols should be based on life style and risk assessment.
  • Diagnosis of any illness detected should be prompt and accurate. Notify your veterinarian immediately if your cat shows any signs of illness.
  • Treatment for any illness or symptoms should be instituted early.

These guidelines are all provided by the American Association of Feline Practitioners in their 2008 Retrovirus Retrovirus Management Guidelines. For those of you interested in more information, the full document is here: 2008 American Association of Feline Practitioners’ Feline Retrovirus Management Guidelines; Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, June 2008, vol. 10, no. 3, 300-316. An abridged version of the guidelines are also available: Feline Retrovirus Management Guidelines Summary.

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