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Feline leukemia questions.

Species: Cat
Breed: domestic short hair
Age: 1-2 years
Hi-Recently we discovered that a stray cat had kittens in our garage. Only 2 in the litter. We brought mom and kittens inside and put them in a spare bedroom. We have other pet cats in the house and needed to keep them separated until determining their health status. Took the kittens and mom (Squeaky) to the vet earlier this week. The kittens both tested negative for the feline leukemia virus, but Squeaky tested positive. The vet seemed to think this was strange and since the kittens tested negative is going under the theory that Squeaky was just recently exposed to the virus and may still be fighting it off. He suggested we retest all three in 30 days, possibly doing an additional IFA test next time and then retesting again in 90 days. Squeaky also had a bad abscess near her tail, the vet thought maybe that was the source of the exposure. For now, since we only have one spare bedroom, we're keeping Squeaky in one cage and the kittens in another. That way if she really is positive and they are negative, they won't catch it. The cages are across the room from each other. A few questions around this:

Is this unusual for kittens to be negative but mom positive?

I've read that very young kittens can have false negatives more frequently than adult cats do. What are the odds that these are false negatives on the kittens?

What are the chances Squeaky could actually fight this and end up ok?

Is there anything I can do to help Squeaky and the kittens (if they were exposed) to fight this? Any types of supplements or diet changes that would boost their immune systems?

And finally, if Squeaky was recently infected, would she be contagious and spreading the virus yet?



Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Aw, sorry to hear that you are dealing with this. Feline leukemia testing can be difficult to understand sometimes.

Most likely the test that Squeaky had was an ELISA test. This test will usually come up positive about 2-4 weeks after a cat has been infected (or later). So, I am thinking that this abscess is not likely the cause of the infection as it is unlikely that the initial wound happened 2 weeks ago or more.

There are a few possible reasons for the test results that you have received:

1. It's possible that Squeaky's test was a false positive. This can happen sometimes. If this is the case then all is well. Repeating the test in a few weeks is a good idea.

2. It's possible that Squeaky was infected, say 4 weeks ago and the kittens are newly infected. Again, the test will come up positive 2-4 weeks after infection. Again, retesting in a month will help us know what is happening.

As your vet mentioned, it would be very unusual for a mom to be feline leukemia positive and the kittens to be negative.

It's hard to say what the odds of a false negative test on the kittens are. I have actually spent a fair amount of time researching this for you and have found a few cases similar to yours but they are not common. In one case the mom was positive and the kittens were negative, but then 4 weeks later the kittens came up positive. In another the mom was positive and the kittens were negative and 4 weeks and also 8 weeks later the kittens were still negative. I personally think there is a lot about feline leukemia transmission that we don't know.

It is possible that Squeaky's test is false positive and she will be just fine. If the IFA test comes back positive then this means that there is feline leukemia virus in the bone marrow and this is not a good sign. If the IFA comes back negative then there is a chance that Squeaky came in contact with the virus and was able to clear it. Unfortunately I don't think anyone has the numbers to explain how often this happens. It's complicated even for vets to understand!

It's also important to know that some cats can be feline leukemia positive and still live normal healthy lives and live to be a normal cat age without any illness.

There really is not a lot you can do to help the mom or kittens fight this. I'm sure you will find products on the internet that claim to help, but be wary of claims that aren't backed by science. There may be some benefit to using interferon. However, the studies that I have seen have not been very conclusive about how well this works. There is no harm in asking your vet about it, but it is not a miracle drug.

And to answer your last question, if Squeaky is showing a positive test (and it's not a false positive) then she would be contagious to other cats at this point. The virus is spread through fluids - so grooming and sharing dishes, etc could spread it.

I know this is a frustrating situation. It's hard for even vets to understand what is happening in some feline leukemia cases. It sounds like your vet has the same type of plan that I would have. I hope things turn out ok!

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Thank you so much, Dr. Marie. I really appreciate your input.

One follow up question. I would like to have Squeaky spayed - 1) don't care to have her go into heat while living in our home! and 2) my understanding is it's possible she could already be pregnant again.

Would spaying her at this point be too stressful on her system if she is indeed fighting off a recent FeLV infection?


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

You're very welcome.

Ultimately the decision on whether or not to spay Squeaky should be made with the input of your vet as he or she knows the most about Squeaky's health. In most cases of feline leukemia positive cats I would definitely advise to have her spayed. You don't want her to deal with a pregnancy or something horrible like a uterine infection later on in her life.

I would definitely wait until the abscess has completely healed. You will likely want to have some basic bloodwork done prior to surgery to make sure she is not fighting any illnesses. The vet may decide to prescribe some antibiotics after the spay as she will be a little more susceptible to infection at this time.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.