Why Not To Test Feral Cats for FIV/FeLV

Just wanted to share Operation Catnip’s policy on FIV/FeLV testing – or rather, NOT testing. I get the impression that most long term TNR orgs don’t. Alley Cat Allies, my gurus, recommend not too. And so do I. Anyway, here’s Operation Catnip’s policy verbatim from their Operation Catnip: Idealism In Action, Guidebook & Policy Manual (the whole thing’s worth a read for anyone in TNR). 🙂

Best Practice

Under no circumstances should cats be sterilised and then euthanased later if they test positive for infection.  This wastes resources that could be spent on cats that will be permitted to live.  In addition, to subject a cat to the stress and pain of surgery only to euthanase it shortly thereafter violates humane animal welfare policy.

FeLV and FIV Testing Policy

In October, 1996, Operation Catnip elected to  cease testing cats for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).  Testing for infectious diseases is performed at OC clinics only in approved research projects. Caregivers who wish to have feral cats tested should have it performed at a regular veterinary clinic BEFORE bringing the cat to OC for sterilisation.  Under no circumstances should cats be sterilised through an OC clinic and then euthanased later if they test positive for infection.  This wastes clinic resources that could be spent on cats that will be permitted to live.  In addition, to subject a cat to the stress and pain of surgery only to euthanase it shortly thereafter violates the humane mission of OC.

Financial Costs

Testing costs about $15 per cat, almost as much as neutering or spaying one cat.  Therefore, testing would increase the cost of running the clinic.  The rate of infection with these viruses is very low (4% for FeLV and 4% for FIV).  This means almost $300 would be spent to identify each single positive cat.  In addition to the cost of testing, the time spent on collecting blood and running tests would also reduce the number of cats being spayed or neutered.

Test Reliability

[Ed’s Note: This is the big one for me!]

Mass screening of healthy cats can result in a large percentage of false positive results.  Ideally, positive screening tests should be reconfirmed by another kind of test and by retesting a few months later.  This is virtually impossible with feral cats.  OC’s previous policy of euthanizing healthy positive cats undoubtedly resulted in inadvertent euthanasia of negative cats as well as those cats that were not clinically ill from their infections.

Emotional Costs 

Almost all of the cats euthanized for testing positive at OC clinics appeared outwardly healthy.  As the rate of infection in feral cats is the same as in owned pet cats, many caregivers and volunteers felt that there was a double standard that called for harsher treatment for feral cats than for pet cats in the community.  OC veterinarians still have the discretion to euthanize cats that are too ill or injured to release, regardless of their infection status.

Decreasing Transmission

The goal of OC is to sterilize as many cats as possible in order to reduce the number of cats that must live as unowned strays.  Diverting resources from this mission will result in fewer cats spayed and neutered and more kittens born into this difficult life.  Since FeLV is primarily spread from infected mother cats to their kittens, and FIV passes mainly among fighting tomcats through bite wounds, spaying and neutering alone will decrease the spread of these infections.

Related Links

TNR

FIV/FeLV

TNR & FIV/FeLV

  • Neighbourhood Cats has some additional arguments for NOT testing and some further really useful info.

One Comment

  1. I’m Pole. Few days ago vet in my country suggested that feral cat who I looked after should be euthanasied because of FIV (the cat was in really bed condition). I decided to do this. But even now I still have this kind of strong conviction that if the cat hadn’t had FIV positive diagnosis, the vet would has tried to heal him. This is why I’ve found this article important and sound. Don’t rush and please think twice when sombody’s life depends on you.

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