Every Cat Logo

Animal shelter management of feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus infections in cats.

Dezubiria P, Amirian ES, Spera K, Crawford PC, Levy JK. Animal shelter management of feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus infections in cats. Front Vet Sci. 2023 Jan 18

The retroviruses feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are 2 of the most common infectious diseases in cats. Each condition can have health impacts such as shortened lifespan and a decreased quality of life, but this is not always the case. Approximately 5% of admitted cats in shelters are positive for one of these viruses. The AAFP and Association of Shelter Veterinarians have published guidelines in the diagnosis and management of these retroviruses, and readers are encouraged to review these for thorough background information (add references).

This recently published study evaluated feline retroviral management in 139 animal shelters in Florida. A survey with 15 questions was emailed to each shelter entity regarding FeLV and FIV testing practices, diagnostic techniques, and outcome options for positive cats.

Important statistics from the study:
• 50% (70) of the shelters were private non-profit, 40% (55) municipal shelters, and 10% (14) private shelters with municipal contracts.
• 83% (115) shelters performed at least some retroviral testing, while only 49% (56) tested all cats for FeLV, and 45% (52) tested all cats for FIV.
• Most tested were cats available for adoption (94% at least some); the least commonly tested were cats in the TNR/RTF program (only 16%)
• Various point of care tests were performed for routine screening, though 63% FeLV positive and 67% FIV positive performed no follow up confirmation tests.

When cats tested positive:
• Most common outcomes included: 64% (74) were available for adoption, 54% (62) were available for transfer to another clinic, and 49% (43) where euthanasia was an option.
• Euthanasia was more likely in municipal, rural, and shelters with less than 3000 cat admissions/year.
• Euthanasia rates were higher for FeLV positive (43%;49) cats than FIV positive (26%;29)
• Shelters were more likely to adopt FIV positive cats to any household, while FeLV positive cat adoptions were more restricted to catless homes or in homes with other FeLV positive cats.

This study examined the management practices of feline retroviral status in shelters in one geographic region (Florida). Limitations of this report include varying shelter record-keeping systems, unmeasured factors such as individual shelter budgets or staff constraints, and other cat-specific variables such as behavioral or health issues. However, this study should be valuable to shelter staff, managers, and veterinarians around the country as this will hopefully open the dialogue for protocol creation and practical management strategies in individual shelters. ~BJP

See also:

Little S, Levy J, Hartmann K, et al. 2020 AAFP Feline Retrovirus Testing and Management Guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2020;22(1):5-30.

Association of Shelter Veterinarians . FeLV and FIV Testing and Management in Animal Shelters. (2020).