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The Importance of FIV/FELV Testing....

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
I regret to report that I had to have a cat euthanized today. Finn was a rescue I took in for a friend, and at the time was quite healthy and well-fed; of course here she was also well-fed. My friend informed me that she was a former stray who had been spayed and eartipped and tested negative. She was friendly and so was adopted out; the owner was hospitalized and so she needed a temporary place to stay.

After a few weeks it became apparent that Finn was no longer observably eating or drinking; she had lost weight and become lethargic. As she was always a shy cat in a house full of rambunctious kittens and cats this was not noticed until she had a seizure episode--we thought it was a choking episode. She also appeared to have an abnormally low body temperature.

After that we kept her under closer observation, and noticed that while she would perk up a bit periodically she remained overall weak, listless and cool to the touch; a week later she had another seizure episode.

The next day (yesterday) she was taken to our spay/neuter clinic to be given subcutaneous fluids and to be examined by a vet. She was dehydrated and perked up a bit with the fluids, and ate half a can of food mixed with warm water. But the vet diagnosed hepatic lipitosis (fatty liver syndrome) on the basis of pronounced jaundice--observable by the yellow color of her gums, the insides of her ears and even her footpads. He recommended hospitalization and a full blood work-up.

This morning she was taken to a veterinary clinic for just that. The vet not only diagnosed full-blown fulminating liver disease but also that Finn was in fact FIV positive. Her prognosis was abysmal--she could be maintained for a time, but only under very uncomfortable and painful conditions. She would not recover. Euthanasia was the humane and logical choice.

I'm aware that there are dissenting opinions about testing and euthanasia within the stray/feral cat community, and that positions can be strongly held either way. My point really isn't an attempt to sway people toward a pro-euthanasia stance but to present an object lesson of sorts.

An FIV positive cat can be healthy for a time and can be maintained as such with constant observation and aggressive treatment of secondary infections (those are the ones which ultimately kill the cat), but even under the best conditions the sudden onset of an otherwise treatable condition in an immunosupressed cat can create an irreversible downward spiral. As caretakers for stray and feral cats, we must remain aware of this, as our cats do not always live under optimal conditions.

Finn suffered for at least two weeks because we were unaware that she was positive and because she was such an unobtrusive cat. Had she been on the streets in a colony she would soon have died a very painful and agonizing death; as it was the best we could do was quick and painless.

Even managed colony cats seldom receive any veterinary care beyond what they get at clinics like the one I work at, and even the most attentive caregiver will not always notice a sick cat--they tend to isolate themselves and are often not found until after they are either dead or too far gone to be saved.

I've personally come to the conclusion that testing and sometimes even retesting is worth the financial cost; not doing so is not worth the cost in suffering that might otherwise be spared....
post #2 of 10
I'm so sorry you had to put her down. Thank you for sharing her story so others can have the information if they're ever faced with such decisions.

post #3 of 10
I am so sorry. Yes, testing and retesting is very important. I know from experience.
post #4 of 10
I am sorry about the kitty. It's never easy to lose one, under any circumstances.

I've been directly involved with TNR for nearly 10 years and am aware of the question of whether or not to test. The primary reason that many TNR groups don't test is money. Their primary goal is to stop the breeding and that is best accomplished by fixing as many cats as can be done. However, most TNR advocates do not oppose - and actually encourage - testing cats who will be placed in homes. If you aren't familiar with it, I'd recommend seeking out the study done by Dr. Julie Levy at the University of Florida who works with Operation Catnip. She found that stray/feral cats are no more likely to have FIV/FeLV than indoor cats. She also determined that fixing more cats can actually reduce the incidence of both diseases faster than testing all cats when they are fixed.

I'd like to recommend visiting this site: to learn more about hepatic lipidosis. It doesn't have anything to do with a cat's immune system or FIV/FeLV. I can't stress enough how important it is to monitor a cat's behavior. ANY CHANGES in behavior are a signal that something is wrong. It may not always be health related, but often is. Cats, unlike dogs, rarely telegraph illness to caretakers until they have reached a critical stage. At that point it is imperative to get them to a veterinarian immediately so as to have at least some time to help them recover. Waiting a day or two can mean the difference between life and death. Sometimes little can be done, but many times cats can recover and live several more happy, healthy years.
post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 
But this time I was expecting it. Shlomo was rescued from the streets about a year and a half ago, and was in bad shape--he had numerous fight wounds and needed extensive dental work. He was also positive for FIV/FELV. After his initial treatment he was quite healthy and gained a good bit of weight, and he was a very sociable and affectionate cat--I really hated keeping him isolated but had to do so because of the FELV.

A week ago he became lethargic and stopped eating. He'd done that before recently but bounced back; this time I knew he wouldn't. Saturday night he was definitely in distress and probably in pain, but I couldn't do anything for him before Monday morning, and then all I could do was have him euthanized. None of that mattered, though, as he did not last the night.

It's a terrible thing to helplessly watch a cat die that way. I sometimes think I could have found some means to finish him off faster, but I could not bring myself to take a knife to a pet who trusted me. Maybe it would have been more merciful in the end, but I just couldn't do it--even thinking about it now horrifies me.....
post #6 of 10
Yes, it is a terrible thing, to watch a cat die and be helpless. 3 times it has happened with my ferals, once hit by a car, and I could not catch her to take to vet for help but knew she'd been hit/injured, once poison or something else and the little one died in my arms at home warm fed and cared for - for the last and maybe only time in her life, and with a purr for me, the last time my parent's 10 year old cat diagnosed with megacolon and given a very bad prognosis even with the surgery...we elected to put her out of her distress (she was in great pain).

But each time, I did what I could do and kept the wee ones company as they departed life, and made the passing easier when I could.

I think that's the part to hold close, that you cared, enough to rescue Shlomo.

And no, the FLEV wasn't the death sentance people fear in cats - I don't test mine because I don't have the money, and every dollar I have goes to the spay/neutering of the colony. I would be torn about testing, although the ones I DID place out of that colony have all tested neg. I will not put a cat that is not combo tested up for adoption. People deserve to get healthy animals ... or at least be aware of any issues before they adopt.

I think not testing is easier for me. I lose alot of the cats to predators, weather, humans and cars. I just hope to keep the ones that stay, as healthy and alive and happy as possible...

Bless you for your caring..
post #7 of 10
what's depressing in the original story is that the cat tested negative at first. i once took in a stray who was tested by 2 separate vets, both negative for FIV. a couple months later he ended up in exactly the same state as Finn and had to be PTS. in some ways it makes me LESS likely to test in some cases, since the tests aren't as conclusive as they should be. either that or the vets didn't actually test properly. i don't feel particularly optimistic either way.
post #8 of 10
and our ferals. I was actually one of the ones in my rescue pushing for that decision across the board. I did a lot of research on the incidence of FIV/FeLV in domestic and feral populations, read a ton by Ally Cat Allies and Nathan Winograd. In the end we decided that it wasn't necessary unless we trap a sick feral.
post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 
The test kits we use require a blood sample from the cat, which is placed in a small reservoir. The kit then produces a series of blue dots on a four-point scale. The top dot indicates that the test registered. A dot on either the left or the right indicates a positive cat; left is FIV and right is FELV. A dot at the bottom indicates that the test kit failed to produce a verifiable result. The test kit normally costs $30.00; as a clinic volunteer my cats are tested at half price. To me it is worth $15.00 to know if a cat is positive or not--because if it has to go back outside it will not have ready veterinary care unless I'm able to re-trap it. And $15.00 out of my pocket hurts me far less than dying from FIV/FELV-related infections hurts the cats....
post #10 of 10
FIV does not have to be a death sentence for cats. If the cat is to be kept indoors, it can lead a long & happy life, and be of no danger to FIV-negative other cats in the house if they do not fight. (It can be passed through bites, but not sharing food, bedding, etc.)
Also note that young kittens of an FIV-positive mother can test positive for up to a year for FIV, then negative for the rest of their lives - I have such a cat. She was not "cured" of FIV, but outgrew what she got from the 5 weeks of nursing from her FIV-positive mother.
Early TNR to decrease fighting among outdoor cats can enable FIV-positive cats to better survive outdoors, but they will always have lower resistance than FIV-negative cats. So it is not the FIV itself that will kill them but what they catch from being outside cats.
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