FeLV: A Cat Who Beat the Odds

Dear Readers,

Today, I would like to start the week with a story about my friend Cotton, a kitty who beat the odds of FeLV.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I am writing this already two weeks after Cotton has gone from this world because it was too difficult to do so before. So how could it be that he beat the odds? Let me explain.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with FeLV, it is a feline retrovirus that a cat can contract at any time during his/her life, which destroys the cat’s immune system over time. It can also lead to certain cancers, blood disorders, and a lack of red blood cells. Unlike FIV, cats with FeLV generally should not live amongst non-infected cats because FeLV CAN be spread from common contact. It is passed from cat to cat through bite wounds, mother’s milk, mutual grooming, and though rarely, through litter box use and food bowls. It is present in the saliva and nasal secretions as well as urine, feces, and blood. Some cats can kick the disease in its earliest stage if their immune system is strong enough. If they don’t, odds are that 70% of cats don’t survive beyond three years of contracting the disease, so told us Cotton’s veterinarian.

It’s a bleak prognosis, to be sure, but occasionally, there is the small percentage of cats who do make it beyond that. In Cotton’s case, he survived twelve years beyond diagnosis.

How did he do it? Honestly, I don’t know. You see, Cotton was a Trap-Neuter-Return kitty, but instead of being returned to the street, he was returned to a friend of MomFOD. This caring fellow, despite not really wanting a cat, took Cotton in and slowly made friends with him. It took a few years of patience, but Cotton and this fellow (we’ll call him C) became the best of friends. C had Cotton tested for FeLV and FIV, but they both came back negative, so no extra care was provided to Cotton beyond the usual love and companionship.

Then, around 2007, Cotton began to have frequent eye infections. They’d appear once a month and Cotton would hide under the bed for days at a time. MomFOD happened to be around often then and thought Cotton perhaps had feline herpes. She knew something was going on with Cotton’s immune system, so she took him into the vet and they retested for FeLV. This time, it came back positive.

Cotton’s vet at the time came out and said “He tested positive for FeLV. Take him home and make him comfortable.” And that was it.

An old video call circa 2008 with Cotton and C in the background and MomFOD in a tiny little square in the corner.
An old video call circa 2008 with Cotton and C in the background and MomFOD in a tiny little square in the corner.

Now, MomFOD, never the quitter when it comes to cats (or adopting them, apparently) refused to believe that this was the end. She believed in a raw diet but knew that for a kitty with a compromised immune system, raw wasn’t a good option. She removed Cotton from his grain-heavy diet and switched him to something with no by-products or grain and a lot of protein. Within a few weeks, Cotton’s symptoms disappeared.

And then, Cotton lived another eight years with no outward signs of his disease until the last few months. Another vet told C that Cotton’s prognosis wasn’t good, and so he once again called on MomFOD for help. This time, though, MomFOD could also tell that Cotton wasn’t well. No longer the plump kitty she remembered, Cotton had lost most of his weight and was clearly dehydrated. He was refusing to eat. MomFOD taught C to administer fluids (with a prescription from his vet) and C valiantly did it all by himself every other day. He mixed special diets and stayed home from work, giving up all his vacation time to make sure that he was with Cotton as much as possible. MomFOD checked on him frequently. They tried other vets, different diets, a blood transfusion, and lots of love. Yet, in the end, Cotton finally succumbed to the awful disease. His red blood cell count was too low. His body was failing.

MomFOD accompanied C during Cotton’s last moments, and it was a difficult experience for her, though certainly nowhere close to what it was for C. He had lost his best friend. Yet, when he said to MomFOD that Cotton was a “poor kitty,” MomFOD said “No, he was a lucky kitty.”

How could she think he was lucky? You see, it is a rare caretaker who will take a cat into his life that he didn’t initially want and provide lifelong care, despite an illness like FeLV. A man who will give up all of his vacation time and his free time, who will learn to use needles and fluids and syringe feed, who would do anything to save his little friend.

Cotton and C a few weeks ago.
Cotton and C a few weeks ago.

Not only did Cotton beat the odds of his disease, he beat the odds and found himself the perfect home and the perfect friend, who never left his side, never gave up, and loved him until the very, very end.

I hope more cats can find a life like Cotton had. It gives all special needs kitties the hope to know that those people really are out there to love them no matter what, for their whole entire lives, no matter how long or short they may be.

Cotton a few months ago.
Cotton a few months ago.

We miss you, Cotton.



Source and for more information on FeLV: http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/Health_Information/brochure_felv.cfm


  • Please send C our purrs and condolences on having to let his dear friend Cotton go Over the Bridge. What a wonderful life they had together and how fantastic that the world brought the two of them together. Give your MomFOD an extra cuddle from us too.
    Marty, Mom and the Gang

  • Cotton was very lucky, but so was C. the love of a good cat can’t ever last long enough, but he was blessed to have Cotton as long as he did

  • What a touching story! So many FeLV cats aren’t given a chance at all, and Cotton had every chance because his human was willing to go the extra mile for him. He was a lucky cat indeed to have such dedication. We are sending purrs of comfort to C.

  • Cotton was lucky to have such a great human in his life that did what it took to keep Cotton as healthy as possible for as long as possible. RIP, Cotton.

  • My family’s cat a Russian Blue named Kitty with FIV… she had to have her teeth removed and take steriods once in a while… yet she lived to be 20 years.

  • What a tail!! It just shows how these little ones worm their way into our hearts. I would do just about anything to keep mine content and happy. Whenever they are sick, my whole life is out of joint. Nothing is good anymore and nothing makes me happy.


  • Cotton was a lucky cat. What a great tribute, Purrs

  • Such a sad and happy story. I can’t imagine what C is going through. I know I would do anything for my guy, even if that means letting go when the time comes. God bless you Cotton. And my condolences to C and MomFOD.

  • Godspeed your journey to heaven Cotton….we are truly sorry, and we send our sincerest sympathies to your dad; and crepes, please tell your mom fod we are sorry to learn about her cat friend ~~~~~ ♥♥♥♥♥

  • I agree – Cotton had a fantastic life, much better than lots of other cats! And his FeLV status did not diminish that… in fact, it proved it even more strongly.

  • What a bittersweet story – so happy that Cotton knew love and caring and a happy home thanks to Mom-FOD and his caretaker for so many years……..he knew LOVE and safety and security and that’s the big three for us kitties. He was so VERY lucky……….so many aren’t.

    Blessings and hugs,
    Sammy and Mom Pam

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