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Adoption program for FeLV positive cats

Lockhart HL, Levy JK, Amirian ES, Hamman NT, Frenden MK. Outcome of cats referred to a specialized adoption program for feline leukemia virus-positive cats. J Feline Med Surg. April 2020. 

Feline Leukemia Virus is often discussed on this blog as a progressive, often fatal disease of cats that causes anemia, cancers, and weakening of the immune system. Despite a guarded long term prognosis, there is significant evidence that cats with FeLV may live normal lives for long periods of time, especially in cases of regressive infection. Despite the possibility of long term quality of life, FeLV positive cats may be difficult to adopt out due to concerns regarding level of care needed, costs, and shortened lifespan. As a result, many FeLV positive care are euthanized rather than adopted.

The purpose of this study was to describe the outcome of cats admitted to a speciality FeLV positive adoption program at an animal shelter in Texas. The study was designed as a retrospective observational study describing the intakes and adoptions of cats between January 2018 and July 2019.

FeLV positive cats were group housed (if temperament allowed) in shelter or foster homes with other FeLV positive cats. Potential adopters were provided extensive educational material on FeLV and restricted to indoor homes with no FeLV negative cats. The shelter agreed to cover the cost of palliative care for conditions related to FeLV (ie dehydration, fever, anorexia, lymphoma, anemia) not extending to hospitalization, advanced imaging, specialist referral, or invasive surgery. All cats received core vaccines, deworming (with praziquantel, fenbendazole, and ponazuril), parasite prevention, and surgical sterilization. Cats were screened for FIV and FeLV with whole blood on a point of care ELISA, and if negative or only FIV positive integrated with the general shelter population. If positive they were immediately re-screened with serum, and if discordant deemed negative. If positive, they were considered FeLV positive.

Data was collected on cat admission and exit date, referral source, age, length of stay, and outcome. The follow up period was extended to December 2019. Eight hundred and one cats were referred to the adoption program. Of these, 149 (18.6%) were deemed FeLV negative (77 on whole blood and 70 on serum, 2 weak positive).

A total of 626 cats were tested twice, of which 22 (3.5%) were discordant.

Of the 652 cats deemed FeLV positive, 625 (95.9%) reached an outcome by the end of the study. The majority of these (514 cats; 82.2%) were adopted out, while 106 cats (16.7%) were euthanized or died in care. 27 FeLV positive cats were available for adoption at study end.

The average length of stay for FeLV infected cats was 12 weeks, compared to 3 weeks for uninfected cats, a statistically significant difference. The number of cats with comorbidity on admission were not different between FeLV positive and negative cats. Upper respiratory infection was the most common comorbidity.

Except from paper showing disposition of cats 

Though likely impractical due to cost, confirming FeLV status using either PCR or IFA (especially in discordant cats) may have improved accuracy of diagnosis, however only two cats were ultimately discordant. Most significantly, some of the FeLV negative cats may have had regressive infection.  Longer follow up would be beneficial, to determine the outcome of cats after adoption (ie survival, cost of care, and quality of life)

This paper demonstrates that FeLV positive cats may be successfully adopted out using a dedicated program and owner education. It also stresses the importance of confirmation of FeLV positive status before making life altering or ending decisions, as ~20% of cats entering this program were ultimately FeLV negative, abortive, or regressors.  (MRK)

See also:

Little S, Levy J, Hartmann K, et al. 2020 AAFP feline retrovirus testing and management guidelines. J Feline Med Surg 2020; 22: 5–30.