Loving a cat with kitty leukemia

Roxie the cat has feline leukemia, but her adoptive family learned about the disease and then put their love for her over their fear of the illness.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Roxie, who looks like a princess with her soft, shiny calico fur and her big gold eyesRoxie, who looks like a princess with her soft, shiny calico fur and her big gold eyes, is about to celebrate her second birthday. For most cats, that’s hardly a big deal. But for cats with feline leukemia (FeLV), every birthday is a milestone. And, because one family chose love over fear, Roxie gets to celebrate this one in her perfect home.

Feline leukemia transmission from mother to kitten

FeLV is a virus that weakens cats’ immune systems and makes them more susceptible to secondary infections. Feline leukemia transmission often happens when cats who have the virus are pregnant or nursing their kittens. So it’s likely that Roxie — who tested positive for the virus when she was four months old— was either born with FeLV or got it from her mother shortly after she was born.

At seven months old, Roxie didn’t yet have any of the feline leukemia symptoms kittens can show (such as upper respiratory infections). But the small local rescue group that housed her lacked the resources to give her the best and healthiest life possible, or the chance at a forever home of her very own. So she came to Best Friends, where caregivers have plenty of experience caring for cats just like her.

A place for cats with kitty leukemia

When Roxie moved to Cat World at the Sanctuary (which has a special place for cats with feline leukemia), no one knew how long she’d call it home. Since she would need supportive care her whole life, including frequent veterinary check-ups, she needed to find exactly the right family to adopt her. That can sometimes take a little bit of time. While she waited, Roxie (who easily wins people over with her pretty eyes and her playfulness), enjoyed plenty of affection from caregivers and stroller rides with volunteers.

As it turned out, Roxie didn’t wait very long for that family to choose her. Twelve-year-old Kat and her parents, Lisa and Thom Mrozek, had recently lost a beloved family cat. Though they were still grieving, the family was anxious to open their home to another feline. And, since Kat had volunteered at the Sanctuary twice and loved it, the family decided that their next cat would come from Best Friends. They were also determined to give a kitty a good home. But a cat with FeLV?

Putting love before fear

It was love at first sight when Lisa first saw Roxie online and in person“I had never considered adopting a special needs cat before stumbling on Roxie,” Lisa explains. But, while searching the adoptable Best Friends cats online, she came upon her picture, and it was love at first sight. Then she read that Roxie had FeLV.

“At first I was intimidated by the idea,” Lisa admits, “but I did a bunch of research and learned that, while she may not have as long a life as other cats, with love and good care she could be a part of our lives for several years. It was enough to empower me to proceed.”

That decision — to put love before fear — changed the family’s life and Roxie’s whole world. “Roxie is a dream come true,” Lisa says. “She’s quieter than most cats we've had, as if she were already an old soul. But from time-to-time she exhibits bursts of kitten-like shenanigans which always warm my heart and make us laugh.”

Kat agrees. “I love when Roxie exhibits her kitten side, running wildly though the house chasing something the rest of us can't see. Those are the moments when I really forget that she's sick.”

The love and comfort of home and family

Not surprisingly, Roxie has developed one of the most common kitty leukemia symptoms: dental disease. Mouth pain sometimes makes it hard for her to eat and get the nutrition she needs to stay in good health. But she sees a wonderful vet every six to eight weeks, and her family feeds her the most nutritious food they can find.

Since her adoption, Roxie has received much more than that as well. They’ve given her the love and comfort of home and family that every cat (special-needs or not) deserves. And, because her family vows to do everything possible to give her the best chance for a long and healthy life, Roxie can look forward to sharing many more milestones with them.

Help more cats like Roxie find the homes of their dreams. Here’s how:

Photos courtesy of Lisa Mrozek