Lily’s The Cat’s Leukemia (FeLV)


Lily was snow white, a sweet 11-month-old kitten found hanging out in my sister’s front yard. She was very skinny and in desperate need of care, but I already had a cat. Besides, I felt Lily had already chosen her new home and human companion – my great niece, Amanda.

Lily was taken to the vet where she received a vaccine for feline leukemia virus (FeLV), on two separate occasions. She was not tested for the disease, despite the fact she had been living outside for almost a year before Amanda adopted her. The vet did not offer the testing nor explain the repercussions of FeLV to Lily’s family. They went home believing they had done everything necessary for Lily’s health.

When Lily began suffering from a variety of ailments, Amanda and her family took her to a second veterinarian who gave her yet another FeLV vaccine, again without testing her. Later, when Lily was unable to hold her food, he suggested testing for FeLV but did not recommend it since she had already been vaccinated. He finally did the test when they took Lily back to him again, sicker than before. Amanda was surprised and saddened to learn her precious Lily was in the advanced stages of FeLV.

She learned too late that kittens from mothers infected with FeLV are born with the disease. Many cats can live with it for two to three years before symptoms appear. These symptoms may include loss of appetite, poor coat condition, infections of the skin or bladder, respiratory tract problems, seizures, swollen lymph nodes, skin lesions, fatigue, fever, weight loss, litter box avoidance, poor grooming, recurring bacterial and viral illnesses, anemia, diarrhea and jaundice.

Lily was only three years old when Amanda had to have her euthanized. Her last day was very hard on her devoted family, but they have the consolation of knowing she enjoyed three years in a loving home instead of being left alone in the wild. Her illness and passing also taught them a lot about FeLV. I asked Amanda to share what she learned from Lily’s short life, and what she loved best about her feline friend.

How did FeLV change Lily?

“We didn’t know she had it until she developed cancer symptoms. She wasn’t herself and became less playful. She had a hard time jumping and often didn’t have any balance. She seemed depressed and had no energy. She stopped meowing and purring. She acted as if I was hurting her when I picked her up. All she could do was eat and sleep. Then she stopped eating and cleaning herself. Putting her to sleep was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But I made the decision so she would be at peace and no longer in any pain.”

What do you want others to know about FeLV?

“Become better educated about this contagious disease and what the cat has to go through as well as how expensive it is to treat. I wish all veterinarians, animal shelters and rescues would recommend and/or offer FeLV testing. Then cats wouldn’t have to suffer and people wouldn’t have to go through all that heartache and financial stress.”

Amanda adds that anyone adopting a cat should ask their veterinarian to test for both FeLV and and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). FIV is in the same retrovirus family as FeLV, and both viruses kill silently and slowly. Amanda’s family learned the hard way that vaccinations will not help a cat that is already infected.

What are your fondest memories of Lily?

“She loved to play hide and seek. She would run up the stairs and peek around the corner to see if I knew where she was, then hide under the bed and grab my foot. Another time, after a rain, it took me a while to get her inside. She was soaking wet, but she let me dry her off with a towel. She was so adorable and purred the whole time. When I was done, she licked my hand as if to thank me. I also loved how she’d come running every time I shook her treat container, and how she would meow and paw at the bag until I gave her one.

“She was my baby. She always made me smile. I looked forward to seeing her every day. She was the sweetest, kindest, most loving and playful cat I’ve ever known. She was more than just a ‘pet’. Lily was my best friend. She will always be in my heart and I will always love and miss her. I wish I could have had more time with her.”

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