Do cats who test positive for FeLV require special handling while in the shelter?

Last updated: 2017-12-28
Author: Dr. Brenda Dines
Document type: FAQs
Topics: Infectious Disease, Community Cat Resources
Species: Feline

Dr. Dines discusses next steps with feline leukemia positive kittens and appropriate handling of animals thought to have FeLV in the shelter.


We have taken 2 “low positive” Leukemia kittens who were tested twice using the Elisa test. They are 5 months old and appear otherwise healthy. What do you recommend we do going forward? The veterinarians said they could not get an answer from the testing labs. Also, a protocol to help us avoid spreading this possible infection would be greatly appreciated. We have them in a separate room and are using gloves, aprons and using the same utensils, bowls and litter boxes with bleach for our disinfectant.

Thank you





There is additional testing that can be done for the two kittens who tested positive, although discordant results may leave you further confused on how to proceed. Here is a link to another FAQ that discusses testing and interpreting results, which can be tough at times.


FeLV is spread through bodily fluids, most commonly saliva (sharing food, bowls, toys, grooming, bite wounds), but the virus does not generally live in the environment for very long, most likely only minutes, potentially up to 48 hours in a moist environment. Thankfully FeLV is readily inactivated by commonly used disinfectants so standard sanitation protocols should be adequate.


There are many shelters that do not retrovirus test cats and it is likely that (although prevalence of this disease is very low) there is an occasional FeLV positive cat that is housed in their own cage without transmission of the disease to other cats in the facility. Cats testing positive for FeLV should be housed individually or with other known positive cats, but they do not need to be in a separate room from other cats as airborne transmission is not a concern. It is not recommended to house asymptomatic FeLV cats in an isolation ward with cats with other infectious disease such as URI or ringworm, as a truly FeLV infected cat could be considered immunocompromised and at greater risk for contracting other diseases. Friendly, informative signage can help promote these cats and raise awareness regarding the disease to potential adopters.


Since FeLV test results and how the disease may progress can be challenging to interpret, providing clear medical documentation and adoption counseling is necessary to ensure adopters feel confident in their decision. Most importantly, adopters that have other cats in the home should be counseled on potential risks so they can make an educated decision.


If you have not already joined, the Million Cat Challenge is a great resource for your shelter. Shelter participants have access to a discussion board where resources like educational handouts are shared to help better inform adopters.


I hope this is helpful and welcome any further questions you may have.


Brenda Dines, DVM

Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Resident

Shelter Medicine Program

University of Wisconsin – Madison, School of Veterinary Medicine

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