When Best Friends Animal Society was contacted by an Arizona veterinary clinic about helping a handsome tabby cat named Wilbur who had recently been diagnosed with the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), the Utah animal rescue was eager to help. “The people at the clinic made numerous attempts to find a home for Wilbur and then requested admission to Best Friends’ building for feline leukemia positive cats,” explains Barbara Williams, Media Relations Manager at Best Friends Animal Society.
In December 2009, a spot opened up in the building for cats with feline leukemia, and Wilbur — who was born in September 2005 — traveled to Kanab, Utah, to take up residence at the sanctuary. “Best Friends Animal Society has an entire building dedicated to cats with feline leukemia at its sanctuary in rural southern Utah,” explains Barbara. “We can only take in new kitties as space is available, so there is always a waiting list.”
The feline leukemia virus, which is a serious viral infection that affects a cat’s bone marrow and immune system, is fairly easy to transmit, making it extremely important for infected animals to live separately from those who test negative for FeLV. “The virus is typically spread from infected cats to non-infected cats through close personal contact, usually involving saliva,” says Barbara, sharing information provided to her by the organization’s veterinary team and from Best Friends Animal Society’s resource articles. “It can also be transmitted from a mother cat to a kitten in utero and from the milk of an infected cat.”
The feline leukemia virus can also be spread through fleas, blood transfusions, and contaminated needles, although these are less common means of transmission because FeLV usually doesn’t live very long outside of an infected cat’s body. “Spreading FeLV via human clothing and hands is very unlikely,” says Barbara. “If an FeLV-positive cat is housed in a separate room from an FeLV-negative cat, it is unlikely that transmission will occur.”
In addition to the leukemia virus, Wilbur was diagnosed with feline immunodeficiency virus, an infection that causes cats to have weaker than average immune systems. “The most common route of infection is a deep bite wound from an FIV-positive cat to another cat,” explains Barbara. “It can also be transmitted via blood, in utero, and from the milk of an infected mother cat.” While cats with FeLV shouldn’t live with cats who don’t have the virus, the same rules don’t necessarily apply when it comes to FIV. “Many FIV-positive cats and FIV-negative cats live together in the same home for years without spreading the virus to the non-infected cats,” says Barbara.
Also, because neither FIV nor FeLV can be transmitted to human beings or other animals, people aren’t at risk of contracting either virus, nor are pets of other species, including dogs. Consequently, Wilbur — who absolutely adores people — gets to spend lots of time around the staff and volunteers at Best Friends Animal Society, especially after he became the office cat in September 2016. “Wilbur is a wonderful presence in our office,” says Barbara. “He loves to talk to us — I have an unsubstantiated theory that there is a Siamese in his ancestry — and enjoys lap time.”
While FIV and FeLV are both serious illnesses, Wilbur — who has been living with the viruses since at least 2009 — is proof that neither condition is necessarily an automatic death sentence. “It is true that if [the feline leukemia virus] is contracted when they are kittens, their chances of living a long life are not good,” says Barbara. “Adult cats who contract the disease, like our 12-years-going-on-13 Wilbur, with proper nutrition and medical care, may live several years.” In fact, Best Friends Animal Society was home to Cybella, an FeLV-positive cat, who enjoyed a long and happy life, living at the sanctuary until she reached the ripe old age of 21.5 years.
Cats with FIV — as long as they receive proper nutrition and medical care — can have a fairly normal life expectancy, especially if their risk of injury and illness is minimized as much as possible. “For both FeLV and FIV cats, Best Friends strongly recommends that they be indoor pets,” says Barbara. “Since many of these cats may have lived on the streets before being rescued, they may really crave to still have outdoor experiences.”
For felines who simply can’t bear being kept inside all the time, there are plenty of great options available to help cats safely enjoy the great outdoors, including screened catios, pet strollers, and leashes and harnesses. “Every cat is different,” says Barbara. “Some are thrilled to be indoor-only cats, but other cats who lived outdoors for part of their lives thrive with some supervised outdoor time.”
Wilbur, who most likely spent a lot of time outside before he joined Best Friends Animal Society, has access to an enclosed dog run that he can use to get his fill of nature. “Wilbur absolutely loves it when we take him out on warm days,” says Barbara. “He loves the feel of fresh air on his whiskers and the warm sun on his back and he enjoys watching the local wildlife or people passing by.” When he’s not outside enjoying the sunshine or inside cuddled up in someone’s lap, Wilbur loves sitting by the sliding glass door in the office, waiting for wildlife to appear.
“He is really happy when a deer, squirrel or bird passes,” says Barbara, and while he doesn’t play with his toys when anyone is around, it’s obvious Wilbur keeps himself very busy after everyone leaves the office for the day. “We do know he plays with his toys at night,” says Barbara, “as they will be in completely different places when we come back in the morning.”
While Wilbur is very happy with his life at Best Friends Animal Society, he is available for adoption, and he would be the perfect addition to almost any home, especially because of some recent medical developments. “We recently did blood work and discovered that Wilbur now is clear of feline leukemia,” says Barbara, making it possible for him to be around other cats who are FeLV-negative. However, the blood work also revealed that this handsome senior cat is in kidney failure. “He is doing great now,” says Barbara, “but it gives all the more reason to want to see Wilbur adopted. He deserves a home for the rest of his life.”
Currently, Wilbur’s only medical issues are irritable bowel syndrome, which is treated with a daily dose of laxatives, and elevated calcium, which is being monitored. While it’s impossible to know long Wilbur will live, or any cat for that matter, he has just as much love to give as any other feline, maybe even more. For now, Wilbur has plenty of friends to keep him company — “He is in his glory when people come to visit and loves going on sleepovers with volunteers,” says Barbara — but everyone at Best Friends Animal Society is confident the right family will come along to give this special boy the loving forever home he desperately deserves.
“Our hope and dream is that Wilbur’s wonderfulness is rewarded by him going to his forever family,” says Barbara. “He would so love to watch TV on the couch, snuggle in bed, and sit on his very own patio with his people.”
If you’re interested in sponsoring or adopting Wilbur, please contact Best Friends Animal Society.
To learn more about this incredible cat, you can follow Wilbur on Instagram.