If you have ever owned a cat you have most likely heard of the three F's: FeLV, FIP, and FIV. These contagious diseases are most common in outdoor cats, but indoor cats are certainly not immune to them. We would like to take some time to talk about each disease and how you can prevent your cat from getting them.
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) causes an infection in cats that is often fatal, though an infected cat can live for many months or even years. FeLV affects the immune system, making it easier for a cat to catch other diseases. Cat to cat contact is needed to transmit the virus, usually requiring intimate contact, such as grooming and biting. A test is available for FeLV, but it can take up to 30 days from the last cat contact to determine whether a cat or kitten is FeLV free. This is due to the fact that this particular disease has an incubation period that can be as long as 30 days.
Indoor cats have a low risk of catching FeLV, but in order to be extra safe you can prevent your cat from catching FeLV in two ways. First, there is a vaccination available. Risks and benefits of any vaccine should always be addressed. As with any vaccine, there is always a risk of adverse reactions. If your cat is to remain completely indoors and cohabitates with other FeLV negative cats, then the risk of the vaccine would outweigh its benefits. However, if your cat goes outdoors unattended or cohabitates with cats of unknown FeLV status, then the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. The best option is keeping your cat indoors and preventing any contact with outdoor cats or cats of unknown FeLV status. It is also recommended that any new cat entering your house be separated from your other cats for 2 months until negative FeLV test at the end of these 2 months shows that it is safe to put the cats together.
If you have spoken with many ragdoll breeders, you have probably discovered that most either recommend or require that you do not give your ragdoll kitten the FeLV vaccination. Unfortunately we have not found much scientific research geared specifically toward the ragdoll breed and their reactions to the FeLV vaccination. We have heard several stories of seemingly perfectly healthy ragdoll kittens that suddenly died after receiving the vaccination. Combining that with the fact that ragdolls are meant to be indoor cats and there really becomes little reason to vaccinate a ragdoll unless it is being introduced to other cats that have suspected FeLV problems.
In our cattery we do not use the FeLV vaccine, but we only allow contact with other cats that have been proven to be FeLV free. If any new cat is coming into our homes (even from other breeders), we isolate them from the rest of our cats for 2 months and then have them tested for FeLV. Therefore we can say with certainty that there are no occurrences of FeLV in any of our breeders or kittens.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is another disease that affects the immune system in cats. It is passed through blood and saliva, and is not likely transmitted through casual contact (such as litter boxes, feeding bowls, or mutual grooming). The majority of cats are infected via a bite wound from an FIV infected cat. It is very rarely passed from an infected mother to her kittens. Many FIV positive cats end up living long and healthy lives if care is taken to provide them with all that is needed for good health.
There is a vaccination for FIV but it is not routinely recommend by veterinarians. This is because a vaccinated cat will show up positive when tested for the virus. Under normal circumstances this might be fine, but if your cat was to get out of your house and end up at a shelter or be taken in by another person, it could cause problems. Shelters often put down FIV positive cats and well-intentioned people may elect to euthanize the "stray" they found after it tests positive for FIV.
All new breeders coming into our cattery also have the FIV test and we have never had a kitten or breeder that is FIV positive.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is caused by the feline coronavirus which is very common among cats. Most cats that get the coronavirus will just have a mild cold or diarrhea, if that, but in some cases cats will form FIP. It is not known how or why this happens. It is also very difficult to test for FIP and most of the time a positive diagnosis is not made until after death. FIP is generally considered a fatal disease but is most dangerous to kittens and older cats, since their immune system is not as strong. There are two forms of FIP, "wet" or "dry". Both have nonspecific symptoms: weight loss, depression, anemia, and persistent fever. but none of those symptoms point specifically to FIP. The "dry" form is harder to diagnose and it also progresses more slowly. Veterinarians typically suspect it after ruling out other diseases. The "wet" form tends to progress rapidly and in later stages fluid starts to build up in the chest or the abdomen, which leads to respiratory difficulty or a pot-belly appearance respectively, therefore it can often be diagnosed more readily.
There is a vaccination for FIP, but it is not recommend by most veterinarians due to questionable efficacy. The best prevention is to keep your cats as healthy as possible and keep a clean environment for your cat to live in. It is also recommended that you keep new cats separated from the other cats in your house, until you have time to see that they are healthy.
All of our ragdolls are very healthy and we maintain a clean and odor-free environment in both households. We have also never had a diagnosed case of FIP. Kitten health is one of our top priorities and breeding good lines that are disease free is extremely important to us.
Special thanks to Dr. Susan Nelson, DVM and Instructor at the K-State Veterniary Medicine Teaching Hospital for helping us with much of the above information.
For more information, see the PDF files linked below:
Feline Retrovirus Management Guidelines - An abridged version of the full guidelines available at www.catvets.com. From the American Association of Feline Practitioners.