Vaccinating Savannahs against Feline Leukemia

There is great controversy over vaccinating Savannahs for Feline Leukemia.  Many breeders will say that you cannot vaccinate them for it because they will contract the disease and die.  As the longest standing breeder of the Savannah we have always vaccinated for the disease, yet have not ever had an individual contract the disease from doing so.  I have spent time scouring the web in search of accounts of this happening.  However, I come up with nothing.  This leads me to wonder where the stigma comes from?  The best I can deduce is that it is a cross-over concern based from some feeling that vaccinating with modified-live vaccinations will cause the individual to contract the disease.

In my online research I came across some interesting facts about the disease itself, as well as the vaccine.  What surprised me the most was research stating that 40% of cats that are exposed to the disease will be able to mount a defense and fight it off.  I was under the impression that exposure was a certain death sentence.  I also found that only 80% of the individuals vaccinated for the disease will go through a proper immune response to the vaccine and therefore be protected from the disease.  Another interesting research article I came across stated that about half of the kittens in the particular study that were vaccinated with a modified-live version of the vaccine had transient bone marrow infection that lasted 2 to 4 weeks ( However these individuals did not shed the virus in their feces or saliva, so they were not at risk of spreading the virus.

Could the rumors of the vaccine causing the disease actually be caused by something else?  Is it possible that an individual vaccinated for the disease was one of the 20% that didn’t develop immunity and then was exposed to the virus and contracted the disease?  Could it be from a bone marrow test showing a positive infection, even though it was likely short-lived and not a danger to other cats?  I feel these are reasonable questions to consider.

We know that Feline Leukemia is the number one disease that kills cats.  Studies claim that one in three stray cats carry the disease.  So which risk is greater – your cat contracting the disease from the vaccination or your cat escaping from the house at some point and coming in contact with a stray cat that is carrying the disease?  As a breeder I would not be comfortable selling kittens from a population of unvaccinated cats.  All of our breeding cats are vaccinated against the disease.  All kittens being retained for our breeding program are vaccinated for the first time at 16 and 19 weeks of age.  In regard to pet owners, I recommend visiting with your vet about it and making the decision with which you feel the most comfortable.

One thought on “Vaccinating Savannahs against Feline Leukemia

  1. Paul Case

    Recently one of our Savannahs tested positive for FeLV under the ELISA test (the first test given when a Vet suspects FeLV). At the time, we thought it was a death sentence, and wished we had vaccinated against the disease. Maybe some of this info will help your readers, because there is no worse feeling than learning your savannah kitten has 3 months to a year left to live.

    After some research, the initial panic subsided as we learned more about how the disease is transmitted. Based on our cat’s history we found it improbable that she had contracted FeLV….the facts didn’t sync…

    We patiently awaited the results of the IFA Test. (The follow-up test generally given when a cat tests positive for FeLV using the ELISA Test).

    As we read more on the subject we held out hope based on two articles (The articles are dated but highly relevant):
    The articles suggest two things:
    That there is a relatively high percentage of false positives in FeLV ELISA tests and;
    That even if the cat has FeLV, you can push back hard against the disease before it begins replicating in the bone marrow.

    Ultimately, the IFA Test came back negative.
    The follow up ELISA test came back negative
    The PCR & Water Blot tests that our Vet had never heard of came back negative!

    Conclusion…the initial test was a false positive. To say we were relieved would be a gigantic understatement.

    There is clearly a lot of contradictory information on vaccines and we had been scared away from ‘over-vaccinating’ our savannahs based on past experience with CKD and based on good, informative articles like the following: . Nevertheless, as a result of this event, suffice to say, we subsequently vaccinated all of our cats against FeLV.

    We remain on the fence about the FIV vaccine because it yields false positives leading to a runaway or injured savannah being destroyed by authorities and by its low ‘reported’ effectiveness between 67 – 84% and would be interested to hear Select Exotics’ recommendations.


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