How cat got feline leukemia baffles one family


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How cat got feline leukemia baffles one family

Updated Dec 21, 2021

Dear Cathy,

My husband and I went to a no-kill shelter to adopt a cat after I became disabled and had to retire early. I was adopted by a beautiful Lynx point Siamese who had been brought to the shelter 14 months prior as an orphan. He immediately jumped on my lap, rubbed his face all over mine, and didn’t mind my mobility scooter one bit.  His vet records showed he was up-to-date on vaccines and tested negative for feline leukemia.  I took him to my vet, and he again tested negative for the disease. He was the only cat in the house.

Seven months later, he didn’t feel well, and so we took him to the vet. To our shock, he was diagnosed with feline leukemia. He was my therapy fur kid. Two and a half years later, he passed away.

Can a mother cat pass the disease to her offspring?  I struggle daily as to how this happened.

– Rebecca Boston, Madera, CA

Dear Rebecca,

I am so sorry for your loss; it’s difficult to lose a feline companion at such a young age.

An infected mother cat can pass this disease onto her kittens through her milk, but your cat may have been exposed to the disease at the shelter.

As to why your cat tested negative though, I had to dig a little deeper. According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, there is something called regressive infection, which occurs in about 10% of feline leukemia cases where a cat can mount “an immune response sufficient to eliminate the virus from the bloodstream, but not robust enough to completely eliminate FeLV DNA from the body.” Apparently, the virus can “be reactivated sometime in the future.” That may be why it didn’t show up in those initial tests.

Ask your veterinarian if he or she thinks this is what happened with your cat since he stayed inside and had no other exposure to felines after coming home with you.

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.

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Cathy Rosenthal (aka The Pet Pundit), CHES, CFE
Animal Welfare Communications Specialist

Cathy brings more than 35 years' experience in the animal welfare field. She is a sought-after speaker, Certified Humane Education Specialist, a syndicated pet advice columnist, an author, a publisher, and of course - a loving pet parent.

Read more about Cathy here or check out her Non-Profit's page to see more ways she can help you and your organization.

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