In “the bad old days”, when a cat was blood-tested with an FeLV+ diagnostic result, that was Bad News; most shelters would put the cat down immediately. Both FeLV and FIV were conditions that cannot be “cured” but only treated empirically. There are vaccines for both, but they don’t help the cat who already has the condition.
|Hutch in hiding (KN)|
We know much more about both viruses now, and neither has to be a death sentence. Many of our FIV cats live quite long lives, and can find loving homes if they are either solo cats or if they get along well with feline companions. Leukemia cats should only live with other leukemia cats – but with care, they can live well and happily.
But there are still many shelters who simply don’t have the space or the facilities to hold a cat for any length of time till a home is found, and there is still much ignorance about what is entailed in having a cat with either condition. For cats in that situation, there is RAPS Cat Sanctuary. Since we opened, we have consistently had groups of cats brought to us from other jurisdictions, and the numbers come and go. Sometimes we have more FIV cats; sometimes there are more with leukemia. The former condition is common among feral males, depending on how much fighting there is; the latter may occur anywhere, but is less common, though more deadly.
Feline leukemia eventually kills most persistently infected cats within three years of diagnosis. The virus most commonly causes lymphoma or anemia, but because it suppresses the immune system, the cats are susceptible to other infections – hence our care with sanitizing before working with them. Some cats may test positive on blood tests when they are young kittens but test negative later on if their immune system has been able to eliminate the infection. Similarly, some cats may test negative at one point and test positive later on, as the virus progresses through various stages in the body. We have had leukemia cats who have lived quite long lives with us (I’m thinking of Ooly, who lived to the age of 18); some cats have body systems that manage to suppress the virus, and that is always our hope, especially with the younger cats.
Currently, we’re at an upswing in numbers with new leukemia cats coming in to us. Pauline introduced us to Banff and Creston not long ago, and they have settled well and made themselves at home; a visitor is instantly welcomed and lap time demanded. Other arrivals are out and about in the leukemia area, but are very wary about contact with humans. Krinkle and Pewter prefer to stay high up and out of reach; blond Hutch is an expert at finding hiding places; Khaya is timid, but approachable; Furgie is comfortable running around with the other three black cats. Recent arrivals include a trio who have come from Calgary – Adria, Wilco and Jane are all young and friendly and will do well when they are released from their introductory cage-stays.
There may be no cure yet for FeLV, but with constant monitoring and quick reactions by the medical staff, who watch for signs like weight loss, fevers, eye and mouth conditions, we will do our best to keep these sweet newcomers in the best condition we can manage, and give them lots of love as we do so. And we’ll look forward to profiling them as individuals, so that through the blog, you can love them too.