Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is a type of virus called a retrovirus that infects cats. FeLV cannot be transmitted to dogs or humans. The majority of cats that are exposed to FeLV and test positive for FeLV will mount an effective immune response that suppresses the virus (called regressive infection); these cats will test negative on subsequent tests, are asymptomatic, and are at low risk of transmitting the disease to other cats. Cats that are unable to suppress the virus with their immune system (called progressive infection) will repeatedly test positive for FeLV, are at a higher risk of developing an FeLV-associated illness, and can shed the virus (and thus be contagious to other cats).
FeLV is spread by close contact with other cats. The primary mode of infection is through saliva; mutual grooming, fighting, and (rarely) sharing dishes can transmit infection. An infected mother cat can spread FeLV to her kittens during birth or nursing. Kittens are more susceptible to FeLV infection than adult cats due to their immature immune system. The FeLV virus cannot survive for very long in the environment, so cats that do not have close contact with an infected cat are unlikely to be exposed to the infectious virus. The virus is easily inactivated by common disinfectants and can’t survive in a dry environment.
FeLV is detected by a blood test that can be done at your veterinarian’s office. There are multiple types of tests for FeLV, the most common one is called an ELISA test. Other tests, such as IFA or PCR, are used in certain cases to determine the extent of the infection.
Yes, there is a vaccine against FeLV available for use in cats and kittens. The vaccine is not beneficial if your cat is already infected with FeLV. The vaccine can protect against the development of a progressive FeLV infection when it is given to an FeLV-negative cat and administered correctly as an initial series with annual boosters. This vaccine is only recommended in certain cats; the recommendation to vaccinate for FeLV is based on individual risk factors and an assessment by a veterinarian, including a negative FeLV test prior to vaccinating. No vaccine is 100% effective at preventing infection and disease.
It is impossible to predict the life span of any cat, regardless of their current health status. Cats with a regressive FeLV infection can remain healthy for many years. The administration of drugs that suppress the immune system, or illnesses that compromise the immune system, can rarely cause reactivation of the virus to progressive infection in some cats. Cats with progressive infection have a higher risk of developing a life-threatening illness, which can appear as soon as the first few years after infection. FeLV most often causes illness by damaging the immune system, putting cats at risk of opportunistic infections and certain types of cancer. While there is no cure for FeLV infection, supportive care for illnesses caused by FeLV can improve the cat’s length and quality of life.
It is the sole responsibility of the adopter/guardian to make the decision to house an FeLV-positive cat with an FeLV-negative cat. We recommend discussing with your veterinarian the best strategies to reduce the risk when introducing an FeLV-positive cat to a multi-cat household, including the vaccination of resident cats. Because FeLV can be transmitted through casual contact, an FeLV-negative cat could be exposed to FeLV if the cats have close interactions such as mutual grooming, sharing litterboxes, or fighting. In households where non-infected cats are effectively vaccinated for FeLV, the risk of the non-infected cats developing progressive infection is low.
Any cat that has tested positive for FeLV should be kept indoors at all times and provided with good nutrition, a low-stress environment, and regular veterinary care. Regular veterinary care includes vaccinations and wellness exams every six to 12 months, in addition to regular laboratory testing as recommended by your veterinarian. Because FeLV can weaken the immune system, your veterinarian may recommend more aggressive treatments and testing, even for mild illnesses, as a precaution to safeguard your cat’s health.
FeLV-positive cats are just like other cats. They all have unique personalities and traits, and will provide you with love, laughter, and companionship.
Follow the recommended guidelines for keeping your dog confined to ensure good housetraining and alone time training. This will give you time to dog-proof your home. Pay attention to the following list of common hazards.
June 21, 2019: New canine flu cases have been reported in the Bay Area this week. Please review the below information and make sure your dog is fully vaccinated. We are monitoring the situation and will post updates on this page.
Canine Flu Alert
Canine flu is a viral infection and symptoms include coughing, nasal/eye discharge, and fever.
If your dog has any of the symptoms described above, please keep them away from other dogs and contact your veterinarian or call the San Francisco SPCA Veterinary Hospital at 415-554-3030 between the hours of 8 am – 6 pm. If your dog has decreased appetite or thirst, is lethargic, or has any difficulty breathing, see a veterinarian immediately.
Just like with human influenza, most who contract the disease will make a full recovery without intervention.
Canine flu is highly contagious, but fortunately, there is a vaccination available to help protect against the current strain of flu virus. The SF SPCA is recommending this vaccine for dogs who are regularly around large groups of other dogs at places like dog parks, daycare, boarding facilities, and group walking.
The vaccine requires two injections, given 2-4 weeks apart, plus an annual booster. We are currently offering the vaccine for $39 per injection.
To book a vaccine appointment, please call us at 415-554-3030.
For more information, visit the CDC Canine Influenza webpage.
Most veterinarians agree that cats should be vaccinated against diseases that are widespread, cause serious illness, or are highly contagious. These vaccines are called “core” vaccines. Other vaccines may be recommended based on the risk of individual cats being exposed to particular diseases; these are called “non-core” vaccines. Vaccines don’t always provide absolute protection against a disease. Sometimes, they only reduce the severity of symptoms if a cat becomes infected. It is best to consult with your cat’s veterinarian to come up with the best vaccination schedule for your feline companions. There are no viable alternatives to vaccines.
Vaccines are liquid suspensions of dead or weakened viruses or bacteria that reduce the risk of infection by those organisms. Several types of vaccines are available for cats:
The immune system protects the body from things it perceives as foreign and harmful such as bacteria and viruses—antigens. Vaccines stimulate immunity by introducing killed or modified infectious agents into an animal’s bloodstream. Some vaccines provide life-long protection, while others protect for a limited period of time. Because one exposure to an antigen might not trigger long-term immunity, many vaccines are given in a series. A cat is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after a vaccine series is completed. Most vaccines need to be boosted periodically to re-prime the immune system.
Kittens get antibodies from their mother across the placenta, and later in milk, which creates “passive immunity.” Females vaccinated two to four weeks before being bred pass the most maternal antibodies to their offspring. Maternal antibodies are concentrated in the colostrum of mother’s milk. Newborns need colostrum within the first eight to thirty-six hours after birth so they can absorb the large antibody molecules before their digestive tract matures.
Vaccinating very young kittens is pointless, because maternal antibodies bind to antigens in the vaccine and prevent a normal immune response. Kitten vaccinations are usually given in a series to be sure that the animals get complete vaccine-induced immunity, without interference from maternal antibodies.
Most vaccines are given by injection, either under the skin or into the muscle. Some are administered in drop or mist form into the nostrils or eyes. The most novel way to give vaccines is to put them directly onto the skin. Multiple vaccines given in one shot are called combination or multivalent vaccines. In the past, many combination vaccines contained five or more antigens. The current trend is to reduce the number of antigens in multivalent vaccines, to increase effectiveness and decrease the burden on the vaccinated animal’s immune system.
Vaccines are extremely effective although no vaccine is 100 percent effective all the time. Vaccine failure is the exception, but many factors could cause vaccines to fail:
Most vaccines are considered safe. The most common adverse reactions are tiredness, running a low-grade fever, and loss of appetite. Some cats develop a small, non-painful lump where the vaccine was injected, which usually disappears within a month. If a lump at the injection site lasts longer than a month, the cat should be examined by a veterinarian.
In rare cases, a cat will develop facial swelling or have a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine called “anaphylaxis,” typically accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and less commonly, collapse. Intense facial itchiness may also occur. Anaphylactic reactions are usually not fatal, as long as the cat is taken to a veterinarian and treated immediately.
Some vaccines, especially feline leukemia and rabies vaccines, are associated with the development of sarcomas—a cancer of the connective and soft tissues.
Core vaccines are given in a short series to kittens between six and eight weeks of age, and followed by booster shots at varying intervals. The vaccination protocol may vary based on geographical location, the cat’s age and health, and the preferences of the veterinarian and guardian.
Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV; parvovirus; distemper)
Panleukopenia is a potentially fatal disease that causes vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, fever, and often sudden death. Young cats are especially susceptible. Kittens born to infected mothers can suffer permanent brain damage, if they survive the infection. Vaccination is highly effective against this disease. Usually, a vaccination series is given, followed by a booster at one year and every three years thereafter.
Feline Viral Respiratory Disease Complex (FVRDC) (feline herpes virus and calicivirus; rhinotracheitis)
Feline herpes virus and calicivirus infect the airways of cats, causing runny eyes and nose, sneezing, oral ulceration, reduced food intake, and general discomfort. The infection spreads by direct cat-to-cat contact, aerosols from sneezing and contact with infected surfaces. The FVRDC vaccine may not prevent infection altogether, but it usually reduces the severity of the disease. High-risk kittens may be vaccinated as early as six weeks of age; most cats are vaccinated at eight, twelve and sixteen weeks, followed by a booster after one year and then every three years thereafter.
Rabies symptoms are highly variable. New feline rabies vaccines are much safer than older formulations. Usually kittens are given a single rabies vaccine between 10 and 16 weeks of age, followed by boosters either annually or one year later and then every three years thereafter, depending on the vaccine used. In many areas, vaccinating cats (and dogs) against rabies is mandatory under state law.
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
Feline leukemia causes a multitude of disorders, including tumors, bone marrow and immune system suppression, weight loss, chronic infections, and anemia. FeLV vaccines are not completely protective in all cases, but they may reduce the severity and duration of the disease. FeLV vaccines may be recommended for cats entering a household with an infected cat or for those with a heightened chance of exposure to cats of unknown viral status. Most veterinarians recommend testing a cat’s FeLV status before administering the vaccine.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV, “Feline AIDS”)
Extremely contagious, feline immunodeficiency virus transmits by direct cat-to-cat contact, which often occurs through bites during a fight. FIV is related to the human AIDS virus, but cross-infection between species apparently does not occur. Cats infected with FIV typically experience a gradual reduction in immune system function, which predisposes them to developing chronic infections. There is no known cure. Preventing exposure to FIV positive cats is the best way to avoid disease. FIV vaccine can support this effort, but it does not provide complete protection. Discuss the risks and benefits of vaccinating against FIV with your veterinarian.
Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria causes severe respiratory tract disease, especially in young kittens and is extremely contagious. The disease typically responds readily to antibiotic treatment, so routine vaccination is generally not recommended. Symptoms include coughing, nasal and eye discharge, fever, lethargy, and weakness. Cats that come in contact with infected cats in shelters and multi-cat households, that travel to shows, or those exposed to free-roaming feral cats may be good candidates for vaccination.
Chlamydia (Chlamydophila Felis)
Chlamydophila felis infects the eyes and respiratory tract of cats, causing “feline pneumonitis.” The vaccine against this organism typically reduces clinical signs and shortens the course of the disease, but does not protect against infection. Antibiotic treatment is usually quite effective in controlling symptoms of and resolving chlamydophila infection.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP, Coronavirus)
FIP is caused by feline coronavirus. It is usually transmitted when uninfected cats come into contact with the feces of infected cats. Many cats are infected with coronavirus, but few actually develop the disease. The efficacy of the FIP vaccine is controversial, and the duration of any immunity that it may provide is short. Most veterinarians do not routinely recommend this vaccine.
This single-celled protozoan parasite of the gut causes bloating, diarrhea, gas, and rancid, foul-smelling feces that are typically soft, watery, bloody, and filled with mucus. Some infected cats don’t show clinical signs and appear relatively normal. Current protocol is not to vaccinate cats against giardia. The infection is easy to treat, and the effectiveness of the vaccine is questionable.
Ringworm is a superficial fungal infection that affects outer layers of the skin and hair follicles, producing round, raised, red, scaly areas of hair loss and inflammation. Many cats carry the infective fungi and shed infective fungal spores. These spores spread infection to other animals. Ringworm infection causes almost no harm to animals. However, it is highly contagious, and it can spread to people, especially children. Ringworm vaccine may reduce the severity of symptoms, but it is not reliable in preventing infection.
Ticks are tiny parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts and are attracted to animals by warmth, physical contact, and odor. There are soft and hard ticks. Hard ticks are more common, reproduce faster, and tend to cause more problems for domestic animals, including dogs and cats. Tick bites cause irritation to the skin around the area of the bite, itchiness, head-shaking (if the tick is on the face or in the ears), and sometimes paralysis.
In dogs and cats, ticks can cause fever, appetite loss, pain, lethargy, and depression. The brown dog tick, although not carrier of human disease bacteria, can transmit canine piroplasmosis or piro, which can be fatal.
The American dog or wood tick can carry and transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and other diseases from animals to people. Dogs are not affected by these diseases, but people can become infected by removing ticks from pets. This tick is widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains and also occurs in limited areas on the Pacific Coast. Early removal is important since disease bacteria are not transferred until the tick has fed for several hours.
Through toxic secretions caused by feeding, the American dog tick can also cause paralysis in dogs and children where ticks attach at the base of the skull or along the spinal column. Once removed, recovery is rapid, usually within eight hours. Sensitized animals can become paralyzed by tick attachment anywhere on the body.
Ticks also transmit Lyme disease. Most transmission occurs in the New England states, primarily by the deer tick—not the American dog tick or the brown dog tick. If you suspect Lyme disease from a tick bite, contact a physician for appropriate blood tests. Lyme disease can also affect dogs. Symptoms, which may take up to five months to appear, include lameness and joint pain.
Once ticks latch onto the skin, they can cause severe itchiness in addition to red and inflamed skin. Dogs and cats who are allergic to ticks may have especially severe itch and inflammation symptoms. Pet guardians may also notice ticks once a tick becomes bloated after feeding and is easier to see.
Commercial topical preventatives, which your veterinarian can recommend, are quite effective in managing ticks in companion dogs and cats. Of course, avoiding outdoor areas that harbor ticks substantially reduces the risk of infection. Certain vaccines are available for some diseases caused by tick-born organisms, such as Lyme’s disease.
Improper tick removal can lead to skin infections, pain, and exposure to tick diseases. If you find a tick on your pet, follow these safe removal steps.
Once you have located a tick, grab a pair of tweezers and a container of alcohol. Do not remove the tick with your bare hands! It will expose you to tick bacteria. If you do not have a pair of tweezers, wear gloves or wrap your hands in tissue.
Gently grab the tick near the base of the head with the tweezers and gently but firmly pull the tick straight out. You will be feel some resistance, and then the tick should start backing out. Do not use oils or matches to get the tick out; these methods are ineffective and can cause the tick to go deeper into the pet’s skin.
Place the tick in a container of alcohol to kill it. If you are worried about tick-borne diseases, preserve the tick in alcohol so that your veterinarian can identify it.
Ticks like to congregate in the same places on dogs and cats. Where there is one tick, there are likely others. Check your pet thoroughly to ensure that you have removed all the ticks.
Gently wipe the areas where you removed ticks with warm, soapy water. If the skin looks inflamed or infected, place a small dab of antibiotic cream on the removal site.
Sometimes, instead of removing a tick completely, you will break the tick at the neck. The tick’s head will remain in the pet’s skin, but this is okay. The pet’s body will absorb the head over time. If you can see the head you may try to remove it as you would a splinter.
It is a disease caused by a parasite (Toxoplasma gondii). Cats acquire the parasite by ingesting infected prey or raw meat. When a cat is exposed to this parasite for the first time, the organism will multiply within the cat’s intestinal tract and then be shed in the cat’s feces for about 10 to 14 days. Although the parasite is not immediately infective to other animals, it is infective after one to five days.
Most cats do not show any symptoms at all. Some cats with weak immune systems will experience lethargy, lack of appetite, breathing difficulty, or eye problems. Cats that become sick from toxoplasmosis can usually be treated with antibiotics and supportive care.
You can, but it is very unlikely. This is because the parasite is active for such a short period (10 to 14 days) and only the first time the cat is exposed. Also, cats are careful groomers, and so they usually do not have infectious particles on their fur. If your cat is indoor only and does not hunt prey or eat raw meat, then there is little opportunity for your cat to become infected at all.
If a woman is pregnant when she encounters the Toxoplasma gondii parasite for the first time, then there is a chance that it can affect the unborn child. If a woman becomes infected prior to becoming pregnant, then there is no risk to the baby.
You can learn more at the Centers for Disease Control website here: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/
This list of ten books offers a survey of some of the most informative literature on cat behavior and biology, and how to make a happy home with your feline.
Recognizing pain in animals is notoriously difficult. Not every animal responds to the same type of pain with the same behavior. Some animals may be vocal and others more withdrawn. Cats, in particular, are very good at hiding pain and illness. But generally, any injury or surgical procedure that would be painful for humans, will be painful for animals. Here are some of the signs that indicate your animal may be in pain and that you should contact your veterinarian.
To understand the source of your pet’s pain, your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and ask pertinent questions. The doctor may also ask for additional tests. There are several types of pain control available to help your pet, frequently used in combination. These medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), opioids, and topical anesthetics.
NEVER use human pain medication for your pet. Animals have different metabolisms than humans and medications created for us could be very harmful to animals. Your veterinarian may make recommendations for physical therapy and weight loss for some types of chronic pain.
If you are concerned that your pet may be experiencing pain, don’t wait to see if it goes away. The hormones released during stress and pain can delay healing and make your pet sick in other ways. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian and follow all instructions to get your beloved animal on the road to recovery.
In the wild, cats live almost exclusively on meat. The “perfect” natural cat meal—a mouse—is about 50 percent fat, 40 percent protein, and 3 percent carbohydrate. Their sense of taste is much less developed than that of people or dogs. They have fewer taste buds, which can detect salt, sour, and bitter tastes, but not sweetness. Cats also have less digestive enzyme activity than dogs. Increasing the carbohydrate component of a cat’s diet does not stimulate increased dietary enzyme production, secretion, or activity, as it does in dogs. To remain healthy cats must have specific amino and fatty acids in their diets that can only be found in meat. Without proper nutrition, a cat will not grow or reproduce normally, maintain good health, or develop a strong immune system capable of fighting infection.
A well-balanced, tasty diet is critical to a cat’s overall health and well-being. Cat owners can either make a homemade diet or use commercial cat food. The vast majority of cat owners in North America rely on the latter. There are three main types of commercial pet food: dry, canned, and semi-moist. Each can be found in generic, branded, and premium forms. Frozen and refrigerated diets are also available.
Nutritional comparisons between food types should be made on a “dry matter basis,” which factors out the water content of the semi-moist and canned products. With so many different foods on the market today, it can be challenging to figure out which diet is “best.” Consult your veterinarian for specific dietary concerns. The following are some general guidelines.
It is important to feed cats the right diet during the various stages of life: kittenhood, adulthood, and the geriatric years. Highly active cats, pregnant queens, and lactating females have additional nutritional requirements. Cats with specific medical conditions, such as bladder stones, kidney disease, allergies, skin and coat problems, diabetes, or gastrointestinal disorders, may benefit from specialized prescription diets that are available through a veterinarian.
Many cats don’t find dry food very appealing. Most dry cat food (kibble) contains some form of carbohydrate to bind it. Carbohydrates are broken down during the high-heat processing of kibble, increasing their digestibility. Nutritionally, carbohydrates in dry cat food are primarily non-essential “fillers.” Kibble is less expensive than canned food and can be left out all day so the cat can eat whenever it wants to. Dry food also helps keep a cat’s teeth clean. However, low-quality dry cat food may not contain enough protein from meat sources. In addition, some cats become dehydrated when only fed kibble.
Canned food tends to be the tastiest to cats. It contains a high percentage of water, which helps prevent dehydration. High-quality canned food usually has few (or no) carbohydrates and lots of fat and meat protein. Poor-quality canned food is packed with non-meat products and may not be complete and balanced.
Unlike kibble, canned cat food does not promote dental health and cannot be left out for long periods of time. Most cats turn their noses up at refrigerated canned food; it should be warmed to room temperature before being offered.
Note: Cats fed from pop-top cans have a significantly greater risk of developing hyperthyroidism, possibly due to some component of the can lid.
Although semi-moist food has lots of eye appeal to pet owners and often comes in shapes and colors to resemble fish, poultry, or meat, it is usually full of preservatives, sugar, and artificial colors. More expensive than kibble, semi-moist may be a bit cheaper than canned food.
Companion cats are prone to becoming fat. Statistics show that about 40 percent of domestic cats are obese—almost always caused by overfeeding. Healthy cats should have a layer of fat covering their ribs, which provides padding and insulation. This layer should not be too thick, but the ribs should not be prominent.
An owner should be able to feel her cat’s ribs when rubbing her hands down the cat’s side. Viewed from above, cats should have a defined waist at their flank area, just in front of their hips and just behind their rib cage.
Once a cat becomes overweight, it is an uphill battle to help it take the pounds off. Fortunately, well-balanced commercial weight-loss diets are increasingly available at pet supply stores. Cats have very particular nutritional requirements, and it is difficult to create a home-cooked diet which supports all of a cat’s unique nutritional needs.
Overweight cats have an increased risk of developing serious health problems, including arthritis, heart problems, hormonal abnormalities, bone and joint disorders, and type 2 diabetes, among many others. They also are predisposed to hepatic lipidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition that affects their liver. Owners of obese cats have several options to help them lose weight. The most effective solution is a combination of increasing the cat’s activity level and modifying its diet.
To expedite the adoption process, please complete the cat or dog adoption form and bring a printed copy with you to the SF SPCA Adoption Center (Hours & Location). This helps us better understand what sort of pet you’re looking for so we can guide you every step of the way! Please bring a valid photo ID and verification that you are allowed to have a pet where you currently live.
First, we’ll meet with you to find out more about you and your pet preferences and answer your questions. Our goal is to help you find the pet that best fits your lifestyle and living situation so we want to make sure you have a realistic understanding of the time and resources necessary to provide training, medical treatment, and proper care for your new pet. This can take time so please allow at least one hour for the adoption process.
Once we have a good understanding of your living situation and the type of pet you’re interested in, we’ll make introductions and let you spend some quality time getting to know each other to see if there’s a love connection. It’s important that all household members take part in this important decision so please make sure everyone is present (including any resident dogs if you’re considering adding a new pooch to your pack).
Once love happens, we’ll complete the paperwork, review all the SF SPCA adoption benefits, provide information on any known medical or behavioral issues, and share tips to make the transition a success for both you and your new pet.
We consider you and your new furry friend a part of the SF SPCA family so please reach out with questions ― and be sure to share your adoption stories and pet photos at sfspca.org/stories
Don’t forget to schedule your first free health exam at the SF SPCA Veterinary Hospital within three days of adopting.