Currently the Feral Cat Coalition (FCC) does not routinely test or vaccinate for FeLV, FIP, or FIV. There are several reasons why this is not done at our monthly clinics:
The Sheer Number of Cats, Cost, and Time Delay
Our clinics typically have an average of 100-150 cats, sometimes as many as 225 cats at a time. Even operating at maximum efficiency, these clinics take 6-7 hours from start to finish. If we were to add in the time to draw blood and run test kits for FeLV/FIV on each cat, this would significantly increase the time for the full clinic. If we were to test and vaccinate all these cats, the cost incurred would certainly reduce the number of cats that we could sterilize.
Reliability of Testing
Salivary screening for FeLV is not as accurate as a blood test. If an otherwise healthy, asymptomatic cat turns up positive, then there is the dilemma of euthanizing an animal that might have sero-converted to negative. It is nearly impossible to trap these cats again and retest in 2 to 4 months to see if they remain positive carriers or convert to negative. (This is very likely for kittens.) There is no quick “in-house” test kit for FIP at all. It is doubtful that any trap/spay/neuter/release group is eliminating this potentially deadly virus from its colonies. On the other hand, FCC veterinarians do have discretion to request testing and then euthanize any symptomatic animal.
The Success of Our Current Program
Since the start of our spay/neuter clinics in November 1992, the number of cats euthanized in San Diego County shelters has dropped by nearly 50 percent. Since these viruses are most often transmitted through fighting among intact toms and breeding queens, just spaying and neutering cats in these colonies decreases their risk.
In conclusion, we feel that our primary objective has always been to eliminate the incredible surplus of unwanted cats and kittens through humane trap/sterilize/release clinics. The numbers so far indicate that this program is working very well — much better than traditional impounding methods (at least in our county).
However, we certainly are not opposed to testing, vaccinating and (when necessary) euthanizing feral cats. In a perfect world with unlimited resources and volunteers enough to staff multiple clinics per month, testing and vaccinating for these viral diseases would certainly be a plus. For now, decreasing the population and therefore the suffering of these cats will remain our primary goal.
Michelle Chappell, DVM, FCC Veterinary Liaison