to Pet Health Network or

Answers from vets about your cat:

Your Cat’s War against Big, Bad, Infectious Diseases

Reviewed by Dr. Bill Saxon, DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC on Thursday, July 14, 2016
Posted August 26, 2015 in Cat Checkups & Preventive Care

Tri-colored longhaired cat

Infectious diseases are those caused by some sort of organism like a virus, bacteria, parasite, etc.  Many of these infections have decreased in frequency over the years, but many of them are also highly contagious and potentially fatal; therefore, we must keep them on our radar screen. Probably, none should be taken more seriously by cat guardians than those caused by two, specific submicroscopic organisms:

Other big, bad infectious diseases include FIP, feline heartworm and feline distemper.

To see which disease are the most common in your zip code, check out the infectious disease maps here >>>

What makes FIV and FeLV so big and bad?
Either one of these viral diseases, if undetected, is capable of causing a cat's premature death. To make matters worse, FeLV and FIV infections are by no means unusual. According to Cornell University, “Recent estimates indicate that two percent to four percent of the 83 million or so cats in the U.S. harbor one or both of these two viruses.”

Why should you have your cat tested for FIV and FeLV?
Early detection will help you maintain the health of your own cat and also allow you to prevent spreading infection to other cats. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends that, "All cats should be tested at appropriate intervals based on risk assessment," and has published guidelines for retrovirus testing and management.

When should you test for FeLV and FIV?

Based on those AAFP guidelines, you should test:

  • If your cat has never been tested before.
  • If your cat is sick, even if she tested free of infection in the past. (Subsequent exposure can't be ruled out.)
  • If your cat is newly adopted (whether or not she will be entering a household with other cats).
  • If your cat has recently been exposed to an infected cat.
  • If your cat is exposed to cats that may be infected (for example, if your cat goes outdoors unsupervised or lives with other cats that might be infected). Your veterinarian may suggest testing periodically (yearly) as long as your cat is exposed to potentially infected cats.
  • If you're considering vaccinating with the FeLV or FIV vaccine.

What about testing kittens??
All kittens should be tested and vaccinated against FeLV, as recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Ask your veterinarian about additional boosters.

In the case of FeLV, there is no age requirement for this test; it can be done at any time. The test does require a few drops of blood. And it can detect a virus in kittens just 4-5 weeks old. Kittens that test negative for FIV antibodies are likely not infected, but it’s ideal to retest a few months after adoption. A positive test in kittens under 6 months of age might be only a temporary result from antibodies transferred from an infected mother or it might represent true infection. Retesting over time will likely be needed to tell the difference.

Share This Article

Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.