Feline Leukemia & How Your Cat Can Live With It
Does your cat have Feline Leukemia?
Last year, I discovered my boyfriend had never had a pet. He was 33 years old at the time. How on earth can someone go that long without having a little furry companion? We live in Thailand and there aren't that many choices to find pets in the city where we live. They have many stray cats, but I wasn't so interested in getting a cat that had been living on the streets here, not knowing their temperament. I had previously had two cats, both for about 16 years and was looking for a long-haired cat, which is fairly unusual for a tropical climate. But, I had a home, lots of love and a big air conditioner.
After many discussions and planning, we decided to find a pet cat. We asked friends, we went to a veterinarian and looked in the local magazines. We weren't finding what we wanted. I finally remembered that there was an outside market in town and they had one shop that sold cats. We went there and took a look around. Not a very beautiful place to find a kitty. I spoke with the owner who was standing next to dirty cages filled with dirty cats. I wanted to take all of her cats home and give them baths! Instead, I asked her if she had any male cats. She said they'd be coming the following week. She said she had a long-haired orange cat that was a boy and she would hold him for us. We waited in anticipation all week. Finally, the day came. We drove out to the market and my boyfriend instantly fell in love upon holding the tiny kitty in his arms. And, I couldn't resist! We got everything he'd need, from food and toys to litter and a brush. We were set to go.
The first week we had our cat, which we finally named Wizard, we noticed he had all this black goop in his ears. It looked like moist, wet sand. We made an appointment and took him to the vet. She told us that it wasn't unusual for cats purchased at markets to have ear mites. She gave us a solution to help clean out his ears and some medicine to kill the mites. He also had ringworm, which meant we had ringworm (for months and months!). She also noted that he had a lot of black goop in his eyes and around his nostrils. She said that on Persian cats it wasn't uncommon to have sinus issues and that he just needed to be cleaned. Before we left, she said that with all of the problems that the kitty was having, she wanted to test him for Feline Leukemia (FeLV), especially before giving him a vaccination for it. We had never heard of this disease before, so she educated us. She said it was similar to that of HIV in humans. It was not transferable between humans and cats, but was very contagious among cats - especially through saliva, as in food bowls and grooming, or through dander, (cats dandruff, which most people who are allergic to cats are more so allergic to dander than fur.) and, even more so contagious between mother cat and kitten during nursing. She said the main thing to look for with cats that have Feline Leukemia is a compromised immune system. And, our cat did have plenty of problems. We went ahead with the test. It's a blood test (ELISA) and the results took a few days to come back. The vet also changed his diet to Science Diet for kittens. She said it was the healthiest food that could be found in Thailand. (It actually smells quite nice!). In the meantime, we took Wizard home, hoped for the best and cleaned out his earmites twice a day.
It took about 2 weeks to get rid of his earmites. It was a lot of work for both us and the cat. We're lucky he doesn't have major issues with his ears. He seems to have forgotten by now. The ringworm was a different story. That took several months to get rid of. We had to constantly wash our bedding and our clothing. We washed our hands every time we handled the cat and had to be careful that no one that visited us touched the cat so they wouldn't get it. We used all kinds of creams and lotions, mainly Lotrimin and anti-fungal tablets (A Thai brand name), which we had to take for a week. In the end Windex or any window cleaner, sprayed onto the ringworm finally got rid of it.
The blood test came back, after we had been lovingly bonding with our kitty every second of the day. The vet had bad news for us. He tested positive for Feline Leukemia and she recommended we put him down. We told her we needed some time to think about it. And, she reminded us that it wouldn't be fair to other cats if he came in contact with them. Also, if we pet him and then touch someone else and within an hour or so, they pet their cat, then it could transmit that way as well.
After a few days of crying and thinking it over, we decided to not have him put down. He was living in our bedroom, which was larger than the previous two apartments that I had lived in. His litter box was in our bathroom and we were in love with him. So, we decided since he was getting better, that we'd try to have him as long as we could, and at the first sign of decline or cancer, we may have to reconsider and do what was right for his own happiness. But, until then, we'd love him as much as we could.
As it turned out, the vet, who was elated by our decision because she really loves our cat, told us that within a few months, they were having a new medicine that was considered experimental for Thailand, sent to her office. She wanted to try it on our cat. The cost was pretty substantial, but she said the results would be pretty good if it took. It was a coin toss. The total cost for five shots was close to $275.00 USD. She said it wouldn't cure him, but if he took a blood test, his results would appear the same as a healthy cat without the virus, though if tested specifically for Feline Leukemia, he would still test positive. This meant if it worked, then his immune system would raise, not only would he be healthier, we may actually get rid of our ringworm!
We went ahead with the shots. We had to take him to get shots everyday for 5 days at the same exact time. After the third day, we noticed a bit of a difference in Wizard's demeanor. He seemed a little more active and playful. We waited about a week after the shots were administered to go back in for a final blood test to see if it worked. In the meantime, we were still getting all of his other vaccinations on time.
A week went by and he was tested again. When the results came in, Wizard's numbers were the same as a healthy cat! We were elated. The Interferon shots had worked. She said that the other cats that had also had the shots, had the same exact outcome - it had worked on all of them. Again, he's not cured, but the virus has been put at bay for now. There is no guarantee that it won't come back or he won't decline. But for now, he's healthy.
So, now we've had Wizard for almost a year. Other than what his Feline Leukemia test results read, you'd never know that he was ever ill. He's grown very large and is now eating Science Diet Hairball Control, or Iams Hairball Control for adult cats. He's been neutered and is a totally loveable cat! We still cannot put him with other cats, for fear that he will pass along his disease. So, our family will stay small, but grateful.
If you have a cat with Feline Leukemia, and it isn't around other healthy cats (even cats with vaccinations against Feline Leukemia shouldn't share food, or hang out in the same room if possible), and you don't have babies around (babies can easily catch some more communicable problems - such as ringworm from infected cats), but you have a cat that you adore, I highly recommend checking with your vet about Interferon shots. And, I also recommend Science Diet foods, its helped keep Wizard very happy and strong. And, it is highly recommended to get your kitten vaccinated for all the normal things along the way, as well as neutering them when they are the correct age to do so.