Module 2: Preventive health care and health surveillance

FeLV and FIV Testing of Shelter Cats

The ASV recommends that shelter cats eligible for adoption or relocation be screened for FeLV and FIV. This screening is provided pre-adoption in many shelters, but for others, limited shelter resources do not permit routine testing of all cats prior to adoption, especially during kitten season when resources for optimal care are stretched thin. Which cats should be tested by the shelter and when is testing optional? The table below summarizes recommendations from the 2020 Retroviral Management Guidelines.

Note that the Retrovirus Guidelines do not recommend testing community cats in Return to Field or TNR programs. Sterilization reduces the two most important modes of retroviral transmission: FeLV transmission from queen to kitten and FIV from fighting among males. Retroviral control is more effective when these programs allocate all resources to sterilization of as many cats as possible rather than a retroviral test and remove policy. Testing is optional for apparently healthy cats that are housed singly or with littermates. Group-housed cats must be tested, at least for FeLV, before co-mingling. Foster cats going to homes with resident cats should also be tested first. High-risk cats, such as those that are sick, have bite wounds, exposed to known infected cats, or from hoarding cases should be tested.

Recommendations for FeLV and FIV Testing in Shelters

Origin FeLV/FIV Testing
Individually housed healthy cats Optional
Group-housed cats Recommended (at least FeLV)
Sick cats Recommended
High-risk cats (bite wounds, known exposure) Recommended
Foster cats Recommended
Cats from hoarding/neglect cases Recommended
Trap-neuter-return cats Not recommended

What about nursing moms and their kittens? Can the mom or one kitten in a litter be tested to serve as a surrogate for other kittens? Can you pool blood samples from littermates for use in one POC test? Individual infection varies within litters, therefore, it is not appropriate to conserve costs by testing one kitten as a proxy for others. Practices such as testing a queen and not her kittens, or testing only a few members of a litter are both unreliable and a poor use of resources. Pooling multiple blood samples for use in a single POC test will reduce test sensitivity and should not be performed. The simple rule is that one FeLV/FIV test must represent one cat and results cannot be extrapolated to other cats.

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