Diagnosing feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) infection: an update for clinicians

Aust Vet J. 2019 Mar;97(3):47-55. doi: 10.1111/avj.12781.


With the commercial release in Australia in 2004 of a vaccine against feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV; Fel-O-Vax FIV®), the landscape for FIV diagnostics shifted substantially. Point-of-care (PoC) antibody detection kits, which had been the mainstay for diagnosing FIV infection since the early 1990s, were no longer considered accurate to use in FIV-vaccinated cats, because of the production of vaccine-induced antibodies that were considered indistinguishable from those produced in natural FIV infections. Consequently, attention shifted to alternative diagnostic methods such as nucleic acid detection. However, over the past 5 years we have published a series of studies emphasising that FIV PoC test kits vary in their methodology, resulting in differing accuracy in FIV-vaccinated cats. Importantly, we demonstrated that two commercially available FIV antibody test kits (Witness™ and Anigen Rapid™) were able to accurately distinguish between FIV-vaccinated and FIV-infected cats, concluding that testing with either kit offers an alternative to PCR testing. This review summarises pertinent findings from our work published in a variety of peer-reviewed research journals to inform veterinarians (particularly veterinarians in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, where the FIV vaccine is currently commercially available) about how the approach to the diagnosis of FIV infection has shifted. Included in this review is our work investigating the performance of three commercially available FIV PoC test kits in FIV-vaccinated cats and our recommendations for the diagnosis of FIV infection; the effect of primary FIV vaccination (three FIV vaccines, 4 weeks apart) on PoC test kit performance; our recommendations regarding annual testing of FIV-vaccinated cats to detect 'vaccine breakthroughs'; and the potential off-label use of saliva for the diagnosis of FIV infection using some FIV PoC test kits. We also investigated the accuracy of the same three brands of test kits for feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) diagnosis, using both blood and saliva as diagnostic specimens. Based on these results, we discuss our recommendations for confirmatory testing when veterinarians are presented with a positive FeLV PoC test kit result. Finally, we conclude with our results from the largest and most recent FIV and FeLV seroprevalence study conducted in Australia to date.

Keywords: feline immunodeficiency virus; feline leukaemia virus; point-of-care diagnosis; vaccination.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral / analysis
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cats
  • Feline Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Feline Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Feline Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Immunodeficiency Virus, Feline / immunology
  • Immunodeficiency Virus, Feline / isolation & purification*
  • Leukemia Virus, Feline / immunology
  • Leukemia Virus, Feline / isolation & purification*
  • Leukemia, Feline / diagnosis*
  • Leukemia, Feline / epidemiology
  • Leukemia, Feline / prevention & control
  • Point-of-Care Systems
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Retroviridae Proteins, Oncogenic / immunology
  • Saliva / virology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Viral Vaccines / immunology


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Retroviridae Proteins, Oncogenic
  • Viral Vaccines
  • feline leukemia virus vaccine