All About Marie

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Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at www.blogtalkradio.com/petplace; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 18 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of one baby boy, and pet parent of three cats, two dogs, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Feline Leukemia


Dear Marie,
My beautiful Siamese cat of 12 years was just diagnosed with Feline Leukemia. I have to admit that this is my fault. Though Felix is generally an indoor cat, I do let him outside when he asks. He stays in our yard, or either one of my next-door neighbors who don’t mind him visiting at all, but he never travels further than that. I guess he must have been exposed to a stray cat who was infected, and now he is very sick. At first, I just thought he had a cold. He had runny eyes and a runny nose. But our vet did some blood tests and told me it was much worse. He explained to me how we can treat Felix for symptoms, but there is no cure. Initial treatment is going to cost over $1,000 of which I've already paid more than $600 this past week on tests and drugs, etc. I need to make a decision on whether or not I should proceed, or if things are hopeless, to have Felix euthanized. I don’t think I can afford the ongoing costs of care, but if Felix still has a few
good years left, I hate to take those away. You've always given good advice and I am hoping
you can help me here.
Thanks.
Georgia,

Dear Georgia,
When to have a beloved pet euthanized is always a very complicated decision. Without knowing the extent of Felix’s symptoms or the type of treatment he will be getting, it is hard for me to judge the quality of life he may have in the coming months or years; and therefore that is something you should discuss in depth with your veterinarian.

Unfortunately, Felix probably did contract the virus while he was outdoors. Feline Leukemia is frequently transmitted via bites from other cats. What's more, if food dishes are left outside and infected neighborhood cats take advantage of the free meals, the virus can be passed along this way as well. If cats are allowed outside, they should be vaccinated against Feline Leukemia. But the vaccine is not 100 percent effective so the best protection against this terrible virus is to keep cats inside always. Perhaps your sad story will encourage other cat owners to keep their pets indoors.

Your cat is capable of spreading the disease further and now more than ever, it is vitally important to keep him inside. This will also protect your cat from being exposed to other germs that may make him ill. Now that he is infected with feline leukemia, his immune system is weakened and no longer able to function properly. That is most likely why he is at the present suffering from a secondary infection.

If your cat is currently in fairly good shape other than the noticeable symptoms of his upper respiratory infection, he may have several quality years left. Since your veterinarian believes that he can provide a successful treatment regimen for the secondary infection and the cost is your major hurdle, I would strongly recommend contacting one of the many organizations that offers financial assistance for veterinary care to pet owners such as yourself. Here in Orange County, The Pet Fund has a web page with many links that may be of assistance. You can view this page at: http://www.thepetfund.com/links.htm.

If your veterinarian’s hospital belongs to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) you can ask him to submit a request for financial assistance through the “Helping Pets Fund.” He may also be willing to work with you on creating a manageable payment plan for treatment, or may even give you a reduced price if he knows you need help. It never hurts to ask.

I should advise you that the majority of cats infected with Feline Leukemia do indeed succumb to the disease, or complications from other infections within 2-3 years. There will be a point in the future where Felix will lose all quality of life and further treatment will do nothing but extend his suffering. Sometimes pet owners cling to hope rather than letting their pets go. Again, this is the hardest decision any pet owner faces, but you should understand that when this time comes, your decision to euthanize will be made with as much love as your previous decisions to treat his illness.

You have time to look into financial assistance. Don’t let the cost of treatment be the determining factor in how to proceed. Talk frankly with your vet. Get solid answers regarding Felix’s life expectancy and quality of life. Then decide which path to take. Every pet owner finds himself in this same situation eventually and it is never easy. I wish you and Felix well in this very difficult time.

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