Have New Pets Examined Before Exposing Existing Pets

I ran into Tracie at the Subway. Upon recognizing me she said, “Oh! Dr. Randolph! I’m glad I ran into you. I took in a new stray recently and I did the stupidest thing…I put him in with my other cats before I had him Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus tested.

“I knew better. A few days after I got him he began sneezing and coughing. I called your office and they said you were in ‘grandbabyland’ for a couple of days, so I took him to a clinic near my house.

“His FeLV test was positive, and now he has exposed all of my cats to a deadly disease. They are all vaccinated against FeLV, but I know no vaccine gives perfect protection.” Tracie’s face was crestfallen.

“I know I need to have my other cats tested now and again in two months,” she continued. “Do you have a business card on you to remind me to call?”

I handed her one, and gave her a consoling hug. Tracie is a caring and knowledgeable pet owner whose big heart just got in the way of her head this time.

Tracie’s experience illustrates a good guideline for all pet owners. When you bring a new pet into a household, regardless of the source, be sure to have it evaluated by your veterinarian before allowing contact with your existing pets.

Even after that there needs to be a period of quarantine so that incubating problems, if present, have a chance to finish their incubation time and become clinical.

Incubation time can best be understood this way: Suppose you’re at work and a sneeze suddenly comes upon a coworker with a cold while you are chatting around the water cooler. He doesn’t have time to cover his face and some particles land on your eyes, nose and mouth. You will probably get a cold, too, but it won’t be today or tomorrow because the virus has to incubate in your body for a few days before you actually feel sick.

Dogs and cats don’t get colds (it’s a virus that affects only primates), but they do get upper respiratory tract infections in a variety of types. Strays commonly carry these infections. If the disease is in the incubation stage no clinical signs will be evident, but by the time they are your other pets will already be infected.

Intestinal parasites and fleas are two other critter types that a stray animal you take in might share with your existing pets. A fecal flotation will reveal most intestinal parasites and fleas, if present, will be discovered during the physical examination. These can be treated with Capstar prior to your departure so that you don’t take live fleas home with you.

We’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating: When you have questions, call your veterinarian. Usually the staff will know the answer to your question, but if they don’t they will find out an answer and they or the doctor will return your call.


  1. That’s so sad that her other cats were exposed. I hope they will be ok. We bought a Tonkinese kitten that was sneezing. Both the breeder and the veterinarian said he’d get over it and that most kittens have respiratory things. Well, it’s been 4 months and he still sneezes at times. The veterinarian says that he most likely has a herpes/calicivirus and he’ll always be this way. We are so bummed. Luckily he’s a great, loving kitty, but we sure weren’t expecting to have to go antibiotic after antibiotic on a kitten. Of course, we should have known not to buy a sneezing cat. Live and learn!

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