About Feline Leukemia
Feline leukemia is spread by close and persistent contact between infected and non-infected cats. The virus is not airborne, but rather spreads through close and continuous contact with an infected animal's saliva, blood or bodily wastes.
Although there is a vaccine for feline leukemia, no vaccine offers 100% protection. The best way to protect a cat from becoming infected by leukemia is the "test and removal" system. Cats who are tested and found to be positive for leukemia must be segregated from non-infected cats. Cats that are allowed to wander outdoors, where they may come into contact with leukemia positive cats, are at risk for contracting the virus.
Vets use two tests to determine if a cat is leukemia-positive.
- ELISA. This is the most commonly used test, a blood test performed right in the vet's office. While it is a quick and efficient screening device, it does sometimes produce false positives, indicating that a cat is positive when it may have had just a transient exposure.
- IFA. This is also a blood test, but it is sent out to a lab for reading. A cat that is IFA positive as well as ELISA positive can be assumed leukemia-positive and will generally remain positive for life.
HFL has at least six cats who were surrendered to the sanctuary as feline leukemia positive, but who tested negative on the IFA test. Two to three months later, these cats tested negative on the ELISA and remained negative on all subsequent ELISA tests. It would have been a tragedy to euthanize these cats because of a false positive on the initial blood test.
Home for Life's population of leukemia cats include those who are positive on both the ELISA and IFA, and those who are positive only on the ELISA but not on the IFA. We believe in giving every cat a chance to to overcome the virus. For this reason, we keep the two groups separate.
Although feline leukemia is a fatal illness that is highly contagious among cats, Home For Life® does not believe in killing cats who are asymptomatic and still enjoying good health and a good appetite. Our leukemia-positive cats are kept isolated from the other cats in the sanctuary, but in every way, they are given a quality life for as long as they live.