American Association of Feline Practitioners

Veterinary professionals passionate about the care of cats

Feline Retrovirus Management

2008 AAFP Feline Retrovirus Management

Download - Feline Retrovirus Guidelines
Download - Feline Retrovirus Summary Document

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are among the most common infectious diseases of cats. Although vaccines are available for both viruses, identification and segregation of infected cats form the cornerstone for preventing new infections. Currently, the majority of cats are never tested for FeLV or FIV during their lifetime, resulting in thousands of new cases each year.

Testing for FeLV and FIV

  • All cats should be tested at appropriate intervals based on risk assessment.
  • Test new cats entering a household or group housing as in shelter or cattery settings. Test again at least 60 days later, limiting exposure to other cats if possible during that time.
  • Test if exposed to a retrovirus infected cat at least once, 60 days after exposure.
  • Test all sick cats, regardless of previous test results.
  • Test before initial vaccination for FeLV or FIV.
  • Consider annual retesting of cats that remain at risk for infection, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Always confirm an initial positive retrovirus test.
  • Cats that donate blood or tissue should be tested for FeLV by real-time PCR to rule out regressive infection that may be transmissible via transfusion or transplantation.
  • Testing healthy feral cats in trap–neuter–return programs is optional depending on resources and program goals.

When To Consider FeLV Vaccination

  • Vaccination of all kittens is highly recommended.
  • Vaccinate cats that have direct contact with cats of known positive or uncertain status, such as outdoor cats and group housing foster or shelter situations.

When To Consider FIV Vaccination

  • Cats living with FIV-positive cats, particularly if there is fighting.
  • Cats that go outside and fight.

Cats vaccinated with the current FIV vaccine will test positive for FIV antibodies. Visible (collar) and permanent (microchip) identification is recommended for all cats to facilitate reunification should cats become lost. This is especially important for cats vaccinated against FIV since a positive test in an animal shelter may result in euthanasia.

Isolation of infected cats using screen or chain link fence barriers is adequate to prevent the transmission of retroviruses. Detergents and common hospital disinfectants effectively inactivate retroviruses. Using sterile or single-use items will deter iatrogenic infections. All blood donors should be tested at least annually.

Management Considerations

Retrovirus-positive cats may live many years without related illness. A decision about euthanasia should not be made based on a positive test alone.

  • Retrovirus-positive cats should be evaluated by a veterinarian twice a year. In addition to a thorough physical exam, a minimum database including a complete blood count, chemistry panel and urinalysis should be performed at least yearly. Cats with FeLV may have complete blood counts performed twice yearly due to their increased risk of hematological diseases.
  • Utilize aggressive diagnostic and treatment plans early in the course of any illness.
  • Retrovirus positive cats should be spayed or neutered, housed indoors, and should avoid raw food diets.
  • Few large controlled studies have been performed using antiviral or immunomodulating drugs for the treatment of naturally infected cats. More research is needed to identify best practices to improve long-term outcomes following retroviral infections in cats.

Recommendations specific to cattery, shelter and rescue situations may be found within the full text of the guidelines.

Dr. Jim Richards was leading the team of experts preparing this update on retroviral infections in cats when he suffered a fatal accident. His loss was felt around the world. These guidelines are dedicated in memory of Jim, one of the greatest advocates cats ever had.

Tribute to Dr. James Robert Richards

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