One of the toughest things about loving and rescuing cats is coping with the specter of Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). It would often turn out that some of the sweetest cats were the ones whose lives were drastically shortened by one or both of these dreaded retroviruses.
Like HIV/AIDS in humans, FeLV and FIV suppress the immune system and are easily transmitted from one cat to another. Once infected, a cat usually dies within about three years. However, some cats can beat the odds and live much longer.
Cats are stoic creatures, hard-wired not to reveal signs of pain or discomfort, so illnesses often go undetected because owners don’t notice anything wrong. When a cat actually does show signs of discomfort, it means something must be causing him/her serious, wrenching pain.
Good news for infected cats (according to the Winn Feline Foundation, 3 percent of cats in single-cat households and as many as 70 percent in homes with multiple cats, in the USA) is that now FeLV/FIV doesn’t have to be an early death sentence. There’s a new treatment called LTCI, which stands for lymphocyte T-cell immunomodulator. It’s the first such therapy to receive a conditional license by the USDA, and it has no side effects.
Your vet administers the treatment by injection; the typical charge is $75 to $100 per treatment, and the regimen is usually once a week for a month, then once every other week for a month, then monthly or every six weeks to twice a year.
The Humane Society of New York tried out LTCI on two of its resident cats who are FeLV positive: Snowa, a three-and-a-half-year-old tuxedo cat, and Violet, a four-month old white kitten with black spots. Snowa the tuxedo kitty is asymptomatic, so it’s hard to tell whether the treatment is helping her – but one beauty of LTCI is that it can’t hurt. Tiny Violet, on the other hand, is “blossoming,” “Violet had a chronic respiratory infection that wasn’t responding to antibiotics, and she was having trouble putting on weight,” Dr. Higgins explains, “so we’ve been giving her LTCI injections twice a week for a few weeks. She gained half a pound the first week, a quarter pound the second week, then another quarter pound the third week. Now she weighs two pounds, 14 ounces. Her eyes used to drip a lot; now they’re clear, and the URI is gone. Her quality of life is better already – you can definitely see a change. We’re thrilled with how she’s doing.” Last year, Violet was finally adopted into a forever home!