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Feline Leukemia and False Negative Results


            When adopting a new cat into your home, do you bring the new cat to the vet soon after for a general physical and a feline leukemia test?


            Knowing that feline leukemia can be contagious to other felines who have not been infected it was important that any new cats I brought into my home tested negative for this feline disease. Those I adopted from my veterinarian were already previously tested upon arriving at their small office shelter before being put up for adoption. Those I adopted at either a shelter or off the streets I would take to my veterinarian’s office for a physical and blood work to make sure that they were free of feline leukemia. And since all of my cats were indoor only cats there seemed to be no reason to retest the cats a second time after that.  Or so I thought.


            When one of my eight year old cats, who I had adopted from a shelter and tested negative for feline leukemia at the time I adopted him, started to display symptoms of mysterious weight loss, lack of appetite and deterioration and matting of his once soft thick coat of fur, I became quite concerned. Quickly making an appointment for him with my veterinarian, the vet gave him a thorough examination and ran a full blood panel including a feline leukemia test. Noticing a thick mucus discharge from his nose the vet gave him a shot of antibiotics to try and fend off a developing upper respiratory infection. She also gave me a high calorie cat food to feed him to try and get his appetite working again.


            When the results of the blood work came back a few days later my vet called to tell me that he had tested positive for feline leukemia. I was shocked to hear the results, knowing that he had tested negative four years ago when I adopted him. Asking my vet how this could be she explained to me that he most likely was exposed to feline leukemia when he was at the shelter I adopted him from. And because the virus can take anywhere from one to three months to build up in their system the original test was administered too soon after he was exposed and gave a false negative result.


            Unfortunately for my eight year old cat the feline leukemia virus was not diagnosed until almost the final stages of the disease’s progression. With his condition rapidly worsening he was starting to lose muscle mass, becoming unsteady on his feet and no longer able to jump up to his favorite hangouts.  Noticing he was looking for places to hide I knew that he was not going to make a comeback and that there was only one decision left. Not wanting him to suffer any further I called my veterinarian and made an appointment to euthanize him.


            Now with the knowledge that cats can have a false negative feline leukemia test, I will in the future be mindful to re-test any new kitties I plan to adopt four to six weeks after their initial test.  

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