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Ask the Vet: Adopting 'Special Needs' Cats Can Be Rewarding

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: Ever since my cats died, my home has felt empty and lonely. The local cat rescue is offering for adoption some cats that tested positive for the feline leukemia virus and/or the feline immunodeficiency virus.

I want to share my home with two of these "special needs" cats, but I don't know much about these viruses and what's involved in caring for infected cats. Please explain.

A: The feline leukemia virus, or FeLV, and feline immunodeficiency virus, FIV, are more prevalent than many people think.

FeLV and FIV suppress the immune system and can induce diseases that shorten life, such as infection or cancer. Unfortunately, standard antiviral medications don't kill these viruses.

Often, though, a cat's immune system remains strong enough to keep the viruses in check, and the infected cat lives a relatively normal life.

Both viruses are contagious to other cats, so any cat with FeLV or FIV must be kept inside.


Indoor living also decreases the risk of infection, parasites and injury.

Feed your new cats a diet of high-quality animal protein that is low in carbohydrates. Don't feed a raw-meat diet, since many are contaminated with bacteria and parasites.

Schedule twice-yearly veterinary exams, and ask your vet to do annual lab work to identify problems early, while treatment is most effective.

Keep your new cats' vaccinations current to protect them from the most common preventable diseases.


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