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Infected felines need extra care to survive

by Lee Pickett, VMD | January 11, 2021 at 1:48 a.m.

Q: Ever since my cats died, my home has felt empty and lonely. The local cat rescue group is offering for adoption some cats that tested positive for the feline leukemia virus and/or the feline immunodeficiency virus. I want to share my home with two of these "special needs" cats, but I don't know much about these viruses and what's involved in caring for infected cats. Please explain.

A: The feline leukemia virus, or FeLV, and feline immunodeficiency virus, FIV, are more prevalent than many people think.

FeLV and FIV suppress the immune system and can induce diseases that shorten life, such as infection or cancer. Unfortunately, standard antiviral medications don't kill these viruses.

Often, though, a cat's immune system remains strong enough to keep the viruses in check, and the infected cat lives a relatively normal life.

Both viruses are contagious to other cats, so any cat with FeLV or FIV must be kept inside.

Indoor living also decreases the risk of infection, parasites and injury.

Feed your new cats a diet of high-quality animal protein that is low in carbohydrates. Don't feed a raw-meat diet, since many are contaminated with bacteria and parasites.

Schedule twice-yearly veterinary exams, and ask your vet to do annual lab work to identify problems early, while treatment is most effective.

Keep your new cats' vaccinations current to protect them from the most common preventable diseases.

Your veterinarian may recommend you apply a medication to the cats' skin throughout the year to prevent infection by fleas, heartworms and two common intestinal parasites, roundworms and hookworms, that cause serious disease in humans. These external and internal parasites easily infect even indoor cats.

Every month, check your cats' weight and their teeth and gums. Ask your veterinarian to evaluate any bad breath, reddened gums or unintentional weight loss or gain.

I applaud you for adopting cats with special needs. I am certain the experience will prove rewarding to you and your lucky adoptive cats.

Q: A delivery truck's loud, high-pitched backup beep spooked my golden retriever, Tahoe, while we were walking in our neighborhood, and now he refuses to walk here. I tried an anti-anxiety shirt and a harness, but they didn't help. Any suggestions?

A: Tahoe's response is common and understandable. Backup beeps spook me, too.

Start by outfitting Tahoe with an Adaptil collar to reduce stress and promote relaxation. The collar is impregnated with a synthetic version of the calming pheromone that mother dogs produce as their puppies nurse.

Offering Tahoe praise and small, yummy treats he loves will be an important part of retraining him. Reward him each time he remains relatively calm despite an unusual or loud noise.

Gradually work up to walking in your neighborhood by starting in a nearby park or a quiet neighborhood and walking home.

Consider hiding treats in trees or cubbyholes in your neighborhood and helping him find them. Or, if he likes stuffed animals, hide one for him to discover and carry home.

Invite a friend with a confident dog to walk with you in your neighborhood for a couple of weeks. Tahoe's canine companion should help him regain his self-confidence.

If these ideas don't work, it's time to consult a trainer or behaviorist who uses positive reinforcement, such as clicker training, treats and praise. Also, talk with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist about short-term anti-anxiety medication.

With your help, Tahoe should enjoy his neighborhood walks again soon.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at


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