PO Box 86
Elizabethtown, PA 17022

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The James A. Hueholt Memorial Foundation for Animals

Feral Cat Health: FeLV/FIV Testing
by Beth Mersten, Best Friends Animal Society & Anita Frullani, Castaway Critters

*Note: While this article pertains mainly to feral cats, this information also is useful for friendly stray and pet cats.

Whether you are a colony caretaker or a program director of a feral cat spay/neuter program, there are some issues regarding the testing of retroviruses such as Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) to consider.

There are many sources of information regarding feral cats and testing these cats for FeLV/FIV. Here, we give you scientific data based upon published research performed by veterinarians and scientists; information from the American Association of Feline Practitioners, a chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association; as well as recommendations from some of the largest and most well-respected feral cat organizations in the United States, including Alley Cat Allies, a leader in the TNR field.
If a cat initially tests positive for FIV or FeLV, it does NOT mean the cat is positive. The words "test positive" are specifically used because "we are not talking about cats who have the disease or even are positive, but cats who test positive and that's a very important distinction", says Nathan Winograd, former Director of the San Francisco SPCA and current Director of the Tompkins County Humane Society.

Nathan Winograd states "the San Francisco SPCA realized that the incidence rate of positive cats is the same for feral cats as it is for the pet cat population. Twenty percent of cats who test positive will be false positive cats ... higher with kittens. Besides wasted funds and false positives, in the end only about 10% of cats who are infected with FIV actually come down with the disease. Ninety percent -- 9 out of 10 infected cats -- will lead completely normal lives."
"Essential to the decision-making process is an understanding of the nature of both viruses and the limitations of the tests used to detect them," cautions Alley Cat Allies. The tests are not always accurate, reports the American Association of Feline Practitioners. For FIV, the testing method used most widely is the ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immunoabsorbent Assay) test, which detects whether FIV antibodies are present in the blood -- not whether the virus itself is present, explains Neighborhood Cats. "As a result, the test is completely unreliable for cats under six months of age who may have received FIV antibodies from their nursing mother, but may never have been exposed to the actual virus. For adult cats, because of the recent introduction of the FIV vaccine, there is now the possibility a positive test result means a cat has been vaccinated, not infected. Also, a positive result may only indicate recent exposure, not infection."

The most commonly used ELISA is the IDEXX SNAP test. Neighborhood Cats continues, "The ELISA is also used for FeLV. The test is extremely sensitive and is prone to false positives from improper handling. In addition, a cat in the early stages of FeLV infection can still fight it off."

The AAFP guidelines state that a cat testing positive after a single test must be re-tested using a second method of testing after a specific period of time. It is usually impractical if not impossible to hold a feral cat for the period of time necessary for re-testing purposes (AAFP/Griffin).

TNR experts Alley Cat Allies recommend that "before making a decision on testing, it is important to assess the cats you are planning to trap and formulate a management plan first. Are the cats truly feral or are the cats strays? Will the cats go back to the colony or be homed? Clearly, tamable kitten and strays should be tested before being placed in foster or adoptive homes so they can be cared for properly. But what about untamable adults who will be returned to the colony site?"

Studies performed by Dr. Julie Levy, DVM, founder of Operation Catnip-Gainesville-FL, and other veterinarians and scientists published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association have shown that "there is no greater incident of disease in feral cats than there is in tame, owned free-roaming cats." The average rate of infection is 3 to 6% of both pet cats and feral/stray cats, reports Dr. Brenda Griffin, Veterinarian and Professor at Scott-Ritchey Research Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University.

Studies show that using our scarce economic resources to sterilize more cats than otherwise would be sterilized given the cost of testing, actually works to more quickly reduce the number of FeLV positive cats considering that our area has a euthanasia rate of over 50% for cats (AZCats, AAFP, CPAA). In addition, removing a cat who has initially tested positive from a colony does not "eliminate the risk of infection to other cats, who have likely already been exposed to the virus, anyway." (Neighborhood Cats). In addition, exposure does not mean infection (AzCATS).

Neighborhood Cats says the "primary cause of infection relates more to proper colony management than to a particular positive cat or cats. In our experience, colonies with lots of sick cats are ones that are poorly managed - poor nutrition, inadequate shelter and/or unneutered animals. These conditions lead to weakened immune systems and susceptibility to disease. Indeed, some veterinarians believe it is rare for a healthy adult cat to ever catch FeLV. The best way to prevent the spread of disease is thus not by killing individual cats, but by improving the quality of food, making sure the cats have warm, dry shelter in winter and getting them neutered."

Alley Cat Allies says that "despite their being concern over viruses, there is no feline disease that kills more cats than overpopulation." Viruses can be reduced by simply by implementing a high volume sterilization program. In fact, Alley Cat Allies, AzCats and Operation Catnip all state that sterilization reduces or eliminates the behaviors which spread disease---roaming, fighting, mating, and the production of kittens.

Feral cats who are cared for by a caretaker are sterilized, and live in managed colonies are very healthy, studies show. It is unaltered cats, regardless of whether they are from feral colonies or private homes, that wander, fight, reproduce, and have the potential to spread disease. Sterilization reduces or eliminates the behaviors which spread disease (AZCats/Operation Catnip).

Some caretakers believe that placing cats that initially test positive for either FIV, FeLV or both, together is a viable option. It is important to keep in mind that the cats may be in the process of fighting off a virus. If one makes the decision to test, it is important to follow the AAFP testing guidelines and re-test.

Even if a cat happens to be FIV+, Neighborhood Cats founder Bryan Kortis says "An FIV cat especially should not be around FeLVs, because an FIV cat could lead a very long life around other, non-FIV cats. But putting them around FeLV positives means they'll catch that virus too, being immune-compromised, and die early." Removing a cat that tests positive will not necessarily prevent the spread of infection within the colony since the colony's exposure to the virus would already have occurred. Kortis and AzCATS suggest these positive cats have a much better chance when left in their colonies and monitored for if and when the day comes that they reach a terminal stage (AzCats/Neighborhood Cats).

FIV is transmitted primarily through deep, penetrating bite wounds made by male unneutered cats, who roam and fight other unneutered males over territory and females. It is unlikely for a mother cat to infect her kittens with FIV (Alley Cat Allies). Nathan Winograd explains that because the primary modes of transmission of FIV are bites, neutering will go a long way to prevent the spread of FIV because altering affects both:  

"reducing or eliminating fighting as well as roaming and mating." 

Veterinarian and researcher of feral cat issues, Dr. Julie Levy, states FeLV is transmitted primarily from mother to kittens. It also is transmitted via saliva by mutual grooming and sharing food dishes. Therefore, spaying these cats reduces the primary transfer of the virus by eliminating the capacity for reproduction.

When talking with Alley Cat Allies, Dr. Levy of Operation Catnip posed two provocative questions: "Will testing cats reduce the number sterilized?" and "Will returning sterilized infected cats reduce the spread of disease?"

Dr. Levy's scientific model below, excerpted from Alley Cat Allies "Overpopulation Kills More Cats Than Any Disease", is based on two assumptions. One being that the female cat produces 5.7 kittens per year that survive to adulthood; and two, 75% of an FeLV infected queen's kittens also become infected.

Effect of Test and Removal on FeLV prevalence
1) Without Operation Catnip 2) Operation Catnip testing and euthanizing FeLV+ cats 3)Operation Catnip, no testing
# cats terilized 0 833 1500
# cats left intact 1500 667 0
# intact females (65% of population) 975 434 0
# cats tested and euthanized 0 58 0
# FeLV positive cats (7% of population) : 105 (all intact) 47 (all intact) 105 (all altered)
# kittens born in one year (5.7perfemale) 5,558 2,474 0
# FeLV positive kittens born 292 130 0
Total # FeLV Cats and kittens 397 177 105

As you can see, this model shows the "effectiveness of sterilizing a greater number of cats over testing and neutering or not doing anything at all" (Alley Cat Allies).

As a result of the scientific studies regarding testing and feral cat population control, numerous organizations operating large-scale feral cat spay/neuter clinics have changed their policies regarding the testing of FeLV and FIV. Among the many organizations which no longer test nor recommend testing are:
*Alley Cat Allies,
*Neighborhood Cats,
*Operation Catnip, Gainesville, FL, (Note: This group also has clinics operating in Richmond, VA and Raleigh, NC), , , ;
*Feral Cat Coalition,

Best Friends' Veterinarian, Dr. Richard Allen says "FIV is not limited to domestic (house) cats but can be found in the big cats as well, 84% of Seregenti lions harbor FIV and the virus has been identified in 25 species of cats around the globe, from cougars in Wyoming to snow leopards in the Himalayas. It appears that felines have gradually developed the ability to live with the FIV virus for long periods of time. FIV should not be a sentence or a stigma. It's time to end the fear and misinformation about this virus and to spread the truth about FIV."
Dr. Allen also says it is possible to keep a FIV-infected cat in the same household (or colony) as a healthy cat with little risk of transmission as long as the cats tolerate each other and are not fighting.

In closing, Dr. Levy said "it is important to remember that we are in the midst of a crisis. Shelters all over the country are killing stray and feral cats at an alarming rate. Increasing the number of animals who are spayed and neutered is the single most effective way to help control the crisis and reduces the suffering of stray and feral cats" (Operation Catnip Interview).

Sources for this fact sheet:
*Central Pennsylvania Animal Alliance, 2003 Statistics
*FIV - Catching a bad Case of Rumors, Kristi Littrell,
*Brenda Griffin, DVM, Feral Cat Q & A for Veterinarians,
*Neighborhood Cats, Releasing FIV/FeLV Positive Cats,
*NMHP Forum, Best Friends Network Coordinator Beata Liebetruth,
*Should We Release Feral Cats Who Test Positive for FIV?, Nathan Winograd,
*To Test or Not to Test,
*AZ Cats,
*American Association of Feline Practitioners Testing Guidelines, guidelines_retrovirus_testing_2001.pdf 
*Building the Body of Evidence that TNR Works, Julie Levy, DVM,
*American Feline Association of Feline Practitioner's Position Statement,
*Interview with Operation Catnip's Dr. Julie Levy,
*Overpopulation Kills More Cats than Any Disease,

Go to
for "Frequently Asked Questions" etc.


Many cat owners, who genuinely love their cats, have no idea what declawing means to their animals. Declawing means far more than leaving your cat defenseless against an attack outdoors.

Scratching is a normal characteristic of a healthy cat. It exercises the foot muscles and removes dead tissue from the nails. It also has a soothing, comforting effect that creates a tranquil disposition.

The severing of ligaments and tendons that bring pain.
The creating of an imbalance that can lead to injury.
A change in personality and temperament.
A cat may go berserk, bite and growl.
It means you, as the cat guardian, have renounced the responsibility you assumed when you fell in love with that kitten or cat.


Dr. Louis J. Camuti, a practicing veterinarian for 58 years, puts it this way: "I wouldn't declaw a cat if you paid me $1,000 per nail!"
Have you often wondered at a cat's remarkable grace and agility, it's faultless sense of balance?
To a great extent, this is due to its ingeniously designed retractable claws that allow it to establish footing for walking, running, springing, climbing or stretching.


First, it awakens from anesthesia, with its feet throbbing under the bandages, next, it has pain and then it finds it has trouble walking.
The physical effect of declawing is gradual weakening of the muscles of the legs, shoulder and back. Balance is impaired. Emotionally cats feel defenceless and thus live in a constant state of stress, making them more prone to disease.
Despite its grace, a cat is not sure-footed. Without the lighting-quick ability to grasp with its claws, it can easily be injured in a fall.
Deprived of its claws, a cat may turn to its only other form of defense- its teeth. It is fairly common for a declawed cat to become a biter. They do this out of fear and frustration.


"To protect the furniture" is the most common reason.
"To keep my cat from scratching us when we try to play with him" is another.
What can you as a cat guardian do to protect yourself and your furniture without harming your cat?


It's best to start when it's a kitten. Take your cat to a professional groomer, or you can do it yourself. Use a pair of clippers made especially for cats. Have your vet show you how.


Your cat should be fluffy-the scratching post should be rough and coarse. Buy a sisal (a harsh, scratchy hemp product) scratching post or make your own inexpensively.


When a kitten starts to scratch furniture, gently pull it off and place its front paws on the scratching post. Keep the post in an easily accessible place so the cat becomes accustomed to using it.
If an older cat persists in scratching furniture, give it a squirt of lukewarm water from a child's water gun. Spray it any place but in the face. At the same time, say a sharp "NO." then take it back to its scratching post.
Shake a small amount of pleasantly scented bath oil on a piece of cotton. Attach the cotton to the part of the furniture that the cat scratches. It will repel the cat as long as the aroma remains.
Your cat gives you love and loyalty. Its the most it can give. You owe it the same love and loyalty. But you owe it one thing more-to leave its paws with claws.


From /> Sent: Sunday, September 05, 2004
Subject: ANIMAL RIGHTS ONLINE newsletter - Part 1 - Issue # 09/05/04


From: Julia Sharp, /> Subject: Terrible experience... Please read and spread the word!!!

Last night at midnight a friend came to the house and told me our mutual friend was laying in his driveway holding his dog and crying. He was saying to his dog how sorry he was, that he only wanted to help him, please don't die. I was told Andy used Hartz advanced flea and tick drops on Scruffy. I nearly fainted. Andy is poor, has no phone, limited use of a car. This poor guy has no family, they are all deceased, and his family is his four dogs. Scruffy is a 100 pound mixed breed dog with a history of epilepsy. Scruffy was having flea problems so Andy, not having much money, bought the Hartz product from K-Mart. He applied the product early yesterday morning. By 6pm Scruffy was lethargic, staggering, disoriented. By 8pm Scruffy started seizing. With no phone,living in a rural area, all Andy could think to do was wash Scruffy with lots of water. Since Scruffy was seizing, Andy gave him a dose of pheno barbital, Scruffy's seizure medicine. The seizures slowed down. Our mutual friend just happened to be close to Andy's around 11pm and decided to check on him and see if he needed anything. That is when he found Andy and Scruffy in the drive. When he saw the condition Andy was in, and the problems Scruffy was having, he decided to come to my house, less than 5 miles away from Andy's house, and see if I had any info on this product. I told him to go back and use his cell and page the vet to meet them at the clinic immediately. I told him this is a potentially deadly product that needs to be removed from the market. Keep the package and get to the vets right away. Don't worry about the bill...I told him to tell Andy that I would deal with Hartz later.

This morning early I went to Andy's and Scruffy was weak, dazed, slightly shocky and still needing to get to the vet. I was shocked he wasn't at the vets already. The vet did not answer the late night page. Our mutual friend had left Andy the cell phone. Andy had called the vet and a ride. He informed me that his ride would be there any minute. I wrote down the information from the package, told him to call me if his ride didn't show. Scruffy is at the vets now but is still not out of the woods....please say a gentle prayer for Scruffy....and Andy.

I called Hartz. I told them what happened to Scruffy. They took the information and gave me a case number for Andy. He told me that Hartz would pay the vet bill and refund his money for the product if we provided the information and a vet report. I asked him if he thought that would make up for a man possibly losing his best friend. No answer. Then I asked them if Hartz was making so much money on this product that they continued to market it, knowing it's deadly potential....IS THE PROFIT WORTH THE COSTS OF PAYING THE CLAIMS? No answer. I told him that I felt Hartz was marketing this poison to a lower income group of people and that their company was banking on consumer ignorance. No answer. I asked him if paying the claims was cheaper than pulling the answer. I asked this rep what he personally felt about this product. He told me that he only took the complaints, he had no answers. I asked him if he liked working for a company that profited o! n the death of companion animals. No answer. So I told him that if I worked for any company that murdered animals that I would quit that employ and make a lot of noise about it. I told him his personal standards must be very low or completely lacking. Still no answer. I want answers. I am sure there are many victims of this product that want answers.. He ended our conversation asserting that Hartz flea and tick drops are safe and he THANKED ME FOR USING HARTZ PRODUCTS!!!!!!!! I hung up before I said something very insulting....then I cried for all the animals that have died so Hartz could make money.

PLEASE make it a point to tell everyone you know to boycott these products. Educate everyone about the potential hazards of these products. And please look in the links below and sign the petition against Hartz...thanks....Julia target=_blank>Hartz Victims

WARNING Collars of woven nylon webmaterial are dangerous

/> Subject: Please let every dog owner you know....Extremely dangerouscollar!!!


We hope this email may save a life. Unfortunately it is a horrible lesson we just learned. You may remember the beautiful girl we rescued out of O.C. shelter. 'Aya'. Aya was out in the back playing rough with our
other dog unsupervised ..during this play her 'Nylon web collar ' came off. No biggie right DEADLY WRONG!!! As with many young dogs Aya loves to chew 'everything' and she ate her collar leaving only the plastic clip,
adjuster, metal ring and license all this happened in less than a half hour Friday night. Sat am she had only passed a few small pieces vet said to watch her and all should pass in 24 hrs. Sunday am she was not doing
well.took her to emergency by noon Sunday she was in surgery!!!!
Severe blockage in several areas of the small intestines and much of the collar had unraveled and was trailing throughout her intestines and stomach . The vet had to remove several sections of intestine where the nylon fibers had ineffect knotted her intestine. We lost her at 5am this morning. we are

The way these collars and leashes are woven even 1inch can unravel to
threads several yards long and the Nylon does not break it just keeps
unraveling so please forward this on.

We are heartbroken. Jeff & Chika Kritz

In answer to your We don't have a pic of the collar for you
or a brand name. This makes no difference,these items are sold by the 100's
at 'EVERY' pet store in the US. We purchased ours at a local feed/pet store
in town. Go to a Petsmart or Petco and you will see dozens of sizes,patterns
and colors on the shelf. A more detailed description: Woven Nylon Web
material made in many colors and patterns. We have all seen them and most of
us with dogs have such items. In my opinion it does not matter if the clasp
or buckle is metal or plastic...that is not what caused our babys was the Nylon webbing coming unraveled in her digestive tract.
This warning is for "ALL" nylon collars, muzzles,harnesses,leads,leashes and
like products that when chewed could unravel.
Thanks, Jeff Kritz


From Krista Mifflin,Your Guide to Dogs - From Animal-Net forwarded by joe miele

Are you one of the many dog lovers that can't be in the same room as a dog without degenerating into a sneezing fit? Don't despair! You are not alone!

Start now
a.. Visit your Allergist. Many are sympathetic to the pet lover's plight, and anti-histamine therapy is available for minour allergies. Immunotherapy allergy shots are also there for the heavy-hitting allergens. Ask your Allergist about starting a therapeutic program to get a handle on your allergies.
a.. Air Filters are essential to any allergic household, regardless of pets
present or not.
a.. Carpetting should be removed regardless of the impending presence of pets or not. Carpet is one the biggest allergen collecting items, and with a pet, that effect is intensified.

Daily Allergy Controllers
a.. Brushing your dog daily, especially during shedding season, in a well-ventilated area (preferably outdoors) can minimize the dust from floating furballs inside the house.
a.. Vacuuming regularly, to catch and remove the afore-mentioned "floating furballs".

Weekly Maintenaince
a.. Hot water washing of all sheets and bedding that the pet lays on, even yours, if your bed is his favourite resting place. Note AAP ironing works prefect
a.. Plain water rinsing of the dog will be the biggest allergen reducer. Even a dog with little dander will pick up allergens on his coat. Dust, pollen, and dirt all contribute to the "allergic" effect of a dog. Use plain water only, as shampoos and conditions can add to the allergen factor.
a.. Wash the walls and floors of your house in mild dish soap to remove accumulated dander from the walls.

It's a lot of work, but nobody can deny the effect of a loving pet on the well-being of his owner. I have found the rewards of having dogs far outweigh any inconvenience of a cleaning regime, and would not want them anywhere but by my side, in my house, and under my feet.


"In our clinic we often receive animals that are deliberately poisoned with the intention to kill them.

We know that the same happens in all clinics in the Algarve because this is a common practice in this part of the country. We think that this is a cruelty and has to be end. Therefore we would be glad to be of assistance to all who could help to change this situation.

We would be pleased to co-operate with all persons, national and international public organisations to drastically reduce or even stop this barbaric custom.

It seems to me that it is essential to involve the municipalities, as they are responsible for the gathering and sheltering of abandoned dogs, a task they neglect altogether and consequently contribute to the uncontrolled growth of that population.

It is important to make the tourist industry aware of its responsibility, as it is often reported that at some times of the year in places like golf courses many animals are poisoned to avoid any "inconvenience" to the tourists. It is also important to request the G.N.R. and the Police to find and charge the culprits. Persons and organisations in the field of animal protection should be called upon to mobilize their contacts to better the situation.

Once again, we would like to state that we are willing to co-operate with anyone who can help change this situation radically in the Algarve and the rest of Portugal."


Na nossa Clínica recebemos frequentemente animais que foram envenenados com o claro propósito de os matar.

Sabemos que o mesmo acontece em todas as clínicas do Algarve, sendo tal crime prática comum na região.

Cremos que tamanha crueldade deve terminar e portanto colaboraremos com grande satisfação com seja quem for que possa ajudar a mudar este estado de coisas.

Gostaria de colaborar com todas as pessoas e entidades nacionais ou estrangeiras interessadas, para se reduzir drasticamente ou até se conseguir acabar com esta bárbara prática. Parece-me essencial envolver as Câmaras Municipais, que têm ultimamente negligenciado a recolha de canídeos abandonados, cujo número aumentou assim enormemente.

Importa sensibilizar as indústrias hoteleira e turística, pois em redor de recursos de lazer como campos de golf aparecem em certas alturas do ano muitos animais envenenados que assim já não "incomodam" os turistas.

Seria também importante pedir às diversas polícias que apurassem as responsabilidades individuais dos autores de tais crimes.

Convém envolver todos os caridosos com os animais, pois poderiam sensibilizar os demais quanto à situação.

Finalmente, informo mais uma vez que estamos sempre prontos para colaborar com quem quer que seja que possa contribuir para alterar radicalmente esta situação no Algarve como também nas demais regiões de Portugal.