For the love of you pet: Feline leukemia, feline AIDS, shorten cat's expectancy

By John Beck
Feb. 21, 2013 at midnight
Updated Feb. 20, 2013 at 8:21 p.m.

My veterinarian suggested having the kittens I found tested for leukemia and AIDS. The cost for the test was a little expensive. Is this test necessary or something I can save my money on?

Feline leukemia is a virus that infects cats. The disease caused by this virus is a form of cancer of blood cells called lymphocytes. Cats pass the virus between themselves through saliva and close contact, by biting another cat, through a litter box or food dish used by an infected cat (rarely happens) and from milk during nursing.

Transmission can also take place from an infected mother cat to her kittens, either before they are born or while they are nursing. The signs and symptoms of infection with feline leukemia virus are quite varied and include loss of appetite; fever; unhealthy coat; chronic infections of the skin, bladder and respiratory tract; mouth disease; swollen lymph nodes; lethargy; poor grooming; reoccurring bacterial and viral illnesses; etc.

Feline AIDS is also a virus that cats can catch, causing immunosuppression. This virus is spread through very deep bite wounds in which blood and saliva mix. AIDS can also be given from mother to kitten while the kitten is in utero. Unlike leukemia, a cat infected with AIDS can carry the in-active virus for many years and never show any signs or symptoms.

Infected cats do not have the ability to fight disease like a normal cat. A simple eye, ear or upper respiratory infection can become a major problem very quickly.

If a minor bacterial infection is left untreated, it can quickly spread to other body systems and can even be deadly. Symptoms of AIDS are chronic infections of multiple body systems that seem to take a very long time to get better - if they get better at all.

Both of these viruses shorten a cat's life expectancy and can make the short life that they do have very difficult. A lot of people choose to have their cats tested to ensure that they are not carriers of either one of these diseases before they invest in vaccinating, spaying/neutering and creating a home for these animals.

To test your cat, all we need is three drops of blood. A simple test is run in the veterinary clinic that is very similar to a pregnancy test and only takes eight minutes to get results.

Once the test is complete and your feline is negative, I recommend vaccinating for both diseases. Once vaccinated, your cat can show a false positive for AIDS if ever tested again. If you have a cat test positive for AIDS but highly suspect that he or she could've been previously vaccinated, there is a more in-depth test that can be run to find out if your cat is a true carrier of AIDS.

If the initial test comes back positive for either leukemia or AIDS, your veterinarian can discuss where to go from there. If you are a single-cat home, you might consider dealing with the disease as it comes so that your cat can have a decent life for as long as possible. Other owners feel like it is prolonging the inevitable and feel that preventing the spread of the virus and euthanasia is the best option.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at



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