Vaccinating against retroviruses
by Dr. Jill Kirk, Cat Depot Veterinarian
If a vaccine can protect a cat against a disease they should get it, right?
Not necessarily. It depends on what it is!
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a very easily transmitted disease amongst cats, and it is eventually a fatal disease. FeLV lowers the immune system response, so cats are more likely to get infections and often have a much shorter life span than healthy adults.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is less easily transmitted - it must be through a deep bite wound. This disease also lower their immune system, but these cats can have lifespans just as long as FIV negative cats.
There are vaccines available for both of these diseases, but they should not be treated equally. The FIV vaccine is not very efficacious, and if a vaccinated cat is ever tested it will show up positive for the disease. Right now there is not a test able to differentiate between being vaccinated and being truly infected with the disease. For a lot of cats, this can mean death in a shelter situation.
The FeLV vaccine however is more efficacious and will not test positive. This is a vaccine that the AAFP recommends for all kittens in case they ever get outside - by accident or on purpose - and are exposed.
The FeLV vaccine can be lifesaving while the FIV vaccine can be life ending.