Diseases of Friend and Foe

(From Aug. 5, 2011 on my St. Thomas Dog Blog)

When Waterworks Wally got his shots last week, his vet tested him for diseases I’d rarely heard of in cats. He was tested for FIV (cat HIV) and feline leukemia (FeLV).

The doctor said FIV is “a disease of foes,” transmitted by Cats lying on settee, peacefully - no diseasesblood exchange usually through fighting. Leukemia (FELV) is “a disease of friends,” transmitted by saliva shared by grooming another cat or eating from the same bowl.

Two cats tested for diseases

Without knowing Wally’s history, the chance that he might have either disease was too great. If positive, special care would have to be taken if he were around other cats and the vaccines he would be given would be “dead” instead of “live.” That’s if it was so far progressed that euthanasia was the only humane option. Both diseases are incurable.

FIV and FeLV were on our minds right then. Earlier that same day, my husband took a feral cat to the vet to be fixed and vaccinated. There are many dumped and wild cats living around his shop. This year a male and female have been living in the yard.  Kittens too, we suspect, half-grown by now.  They evaded the live trap for a long time, but the male finally was caught.

Feral cat in VirginiaA dumped house cat becomes wild fast enough if he or she is to survive, and, if not fixed, produces kittens born feral. Within a year, those kittens are producing another generation of feral cats and on it goes. TNR, “trap, neuter and return,” is a humane way of controlling the wild cat population by stopping that cycle.

When the vet saw our wild cat’s battle scars, he tested for FIV and FeLV. Very positive for FIV. He didn’t have long to live but he’d pass the disease on in a feral cat colony. So wild cat went to kitty heaven, balls intact.

Wally was negative, thank goodness. Maybe, as someone told me, I am being “holier than thou” in assuming he was dumped. If thinking that abandoning a creature is a despicable and cowardly act, then I guess I am. If Wally is just lost and not found yet, I only want to reunite him with his person and commiserate on the panic you feel when your pet is missing.*

So many cats

But I see that feral cat who had to die due to a preventable disease. I see a pound full of unclaimed cats. A small town with two large cat shelters  – overflowing with cats. I see dog rescue people exhausted by trying to look after dogs people leave tied to doorways, or to wander in the woods or be hit by cars. Volunteers Kitten climbing bars of cage in shelterstretched to their physical and emotional limits tending animals and raising money for kibble and vet bills.

Trying to keep up with the mess left by people who let their cats have litter after litter because “the kids like kittens.” The people who think it’s unmanly for a dog to be neutered. The ones who figure selling pups on Kijiji is fast, easy money.

I had told the vet tech that Wally couldn’t have been wandering long because he had no fleas. She said, “That feral tom Jim brought in this morning? He didn’t have fleas either.” He was only about a year old, they thought. Scars of many fights and a fatal disease. Probably never knew the shelter of a building. But he didn’t have fleas. Poor kitty.

*Wally never was claimed so he’s still with us.

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4 thoughts on “Diseases of Friend and Foe”

  1. Thank You, Dorothy, for shining some light on the problems of cat diseases.
    There is a growing reluctance among cat rescues to euthanize cats due to positive results for FIV and FEL due to the results of studies that were done by Cornel University.
    These are some of the more interesting results that are worth noting, “Once cats have been vaccinated against FIV, the antibody assay for the virus is no longer useful since the test cannot distinguish between antibodies produced as a result of infection and those produced following vaccination”.

    #2 Is as follows, “If your cat has tested positive for one of these viruses, says Dr. Scott, “You don’t have to consider it a death sentence. First of all, you’d do well to have the animal retested after about three months, since the original test may have yielded a false positive. Secondly, some FeLV-infected cats develop an effective immune response, which controls the viral infection and results in a transient viremia instead of a persistent viremia. In these cats, subsequent FeLV tests will show that the cat no longer has the virus in its blood. Finally, while there is no complete cure for FeLV or FIV infection, newer treatments and supportive care can often result in several years of relatively good health.”
    Basically, a found kitten or adult cat could have received the vaccination for the disease and will produce a false positive test result.
    The cat’s own immune system could have fought off the disease and this would also produce a false positive. For reasons, unknown kittens are famous for having positive test results and months later testing negative. One would be wise to have their positive cats retested.
    Postive cats can live with negative cats in your home as long as all of the cats living together have been vaccinated there is little chance of the diseases being spread to another cat. There are several articles about this done at Cornell University.

    1. Thanks, Linda. It’s good to know as much as possible about these diseases and how best to treat them and an infected cat because, especially with a wild cat, decisions have to be made quickly.

  2. Very insightful and well written Dorothy….this article speaks volumes about what is going on. I was in Elgin Pet a few years ago and there was a poor kitten similar to the one in the pic above…the store was empty and the sounds from the kitten were heartbreaking, clinging to the cage…workers in the store paying no mind to what looked like a terrified kitten…a little comfort may have gone a long way….Keep up the excellent work!!!

    1. Hi Susan and thanks very much. The rescue groups say they’ve been deluged with cats and dogs the past couple months. Don’t know why – people’s benefits running out? About Elgin Pet, 4 years ago I took a tiny wild kitten in there. We’d caught her but not her littermates or mother. They wouldn’t take her because they don’t want kittens to be alone. And they won’t put individual kittens from different litters together in case of disease transmission. They said if I caught the others, they’d take all of them. As it happened, someone else took the others. We caught the mother before she got pregnant again. So it worked out ok for that cat family.

      I thought their policy was good, although it didn’t help my situation. Maybe the kitten you saw was the last one left of a litter. But, yes, poor little baby!

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