Adopting a kitten with FeLV

When Xenia was rushed to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary last July, no one knew if she would survive. Barely two months old at the time, the poor little kitten was severely underweight. Worse, she was badly injured and the wounds on her body were infected.

Xenia was showing all the signs of a sick kitten with a long road to recovery ahead of her. But today, she’s a happy cat with a home of her own.

Xenia, the Siamese kitten, when she first arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Saving a sick kitten

Xenia was lucky, because she came to the Best Friends Kitten Nursery in Kanab, Utah, through Best Friends’ local community cat program. Veterinarians and kitten nursery staff rolled up their sleeves and got working to save the Siamese kitten’s life. She desperately needed antibiotics to fight infection and fluids to keep her hydrated. She needed nutrients to strengthen her tiny body and start gaining weight. And, like any other kitten, she needed to feel warm and safe.

Xenia received medical care at the Best Friends Animal Clinic, and veterinarians also tended to her during their rounds at the kitten nursery. Nursery staff and volunteers spent extra time giving her love and attention. Even though they had to wear gowns and gloves to prevent the spread of germs that cause kitten illnesses), they wrapped her up in blankets and held her close to their hearts.

Kitten tests positive for feline leukemia

After receiving all the medical care and TLC, Xenia began to feel much better. Her wounds were healing and she was eating. But just as things began to look up, she faced another hurdle when a routine test for feline leukemia (FeLV) came back positive.

Siamese kitten Xenia lying on a chair

It was heartbreaking news for everyone who had been working so hard to help Xenia get well. FeLV is a virus that weakens a cat’s immune system. Sadly, kittens born with feline leukemia (or those who get the virus very early in life) often don’t fare very well, because their immune systems haven’t fully developed yet. Around 80 percent of kittens with FeLV do not live past three years and most die within a year. After all she’d been through, could Xenia possibly overcome this, too?

No one knew the answer, but one thing was clear: No one was giving up on her. Xenia’s vets and caregivers were going to make sure that she had the very best life for as long as possible. They also found someone who would be happy to foster her, so that she could be in a home. Deb Whorley, a Cat World volunteer, welcomed Xenia with open arms and an open heart. Not only would Xenia get all the love and attention she needed in her foster home, but it also created another open spot at the nursery for another kitten in need.

Foster a dog or cat in need

Siamese mix kitten Xenia lying on a woman's chest

One kitten with FeLV helps another

Once Xenia went home with Deb, two amazing things happened: One was that Xenia settled in and began to thrive. The other was that Deb fell in love with her. By the time Xenia was big and strong enough to be spayed and move to the Cat World building that houses FeLV cats, Deb knew she couldn’t let the brave little kitten go. Xenia was home.

Although no one knows how much time she has, life is good for Xenia. She has grown into a beautiful and happy young cat who loves spending time in her outdoor cattery and lounging with her person. “She sleeps on my shoulder and cuddles right into my neck,” says Deb, who notes that every day it’s one of the ways Xenia shows Deb how happy she is to be home.

Xeni, as Deb calls her, is now helping another FeLV kitten named Jam, who was brought to the Sanctuary after having eye surgery. After taking Jam home for some extra one-on-one attention and socialization, she says that during the first week, Xeni “talked” to him under the door separating them and he started to chirp back.

“Xeni is assisting with his socialization,” says Deb. “He’s so happy to have play time with her. It’s like she’s paying it forward.”

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Xenia the Siamese kitten sitting on a shelf in a catio

Photos courtesy of Deb Whorley and Jancie Dankert