Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)…  6 Things To Know

The new year is underway!  Maybe you’re thinking about starting it off with a new pet.   A kitty perhaps.  If you will rescue this cat and don’t know their background, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is particularly important to understand.

If you already own a cat, do you know about FIV?  Here are 6 things to be aware of.

1) What is FIV?

Feline immunodeficiency virus is like HIV in humans.  It attacks the immune system making a cat that has the virus vulnerable to other infections.

A cat that has FIV can appear normal for years.  But like HIV in humans, it progresses.  Eventually normal harmless bacteria found in the environment become a danger to an infected cat, making them seriously ill.  At that point, your cat will have feline AIDS.

Unlike HIV, humans can’t contract FIV.  It’s only transmitted cat to cat.

2) How does a cat get it?

A deep bite wound is the most common method of FIV transmission.  Aggressive, intact, male cats that roam and like to fight are most often infected.

Indoor cats are at minimal risk unless you bring an infected cat into your home and the cats fight. Casual contact between cats doesn’t seem to be an effective method of transmission.

Sometimes a mother can pass the virus to her babies in the birth canal, or through her infected milk.

Sexual contact is not a common method of spreading the disease either.

3) What are the signs?

When a feline is first infected there may be few noticeable symptoms.  Initially the lymph nodes carry the virus.  So you may notice the’re swollen.  And the cat may run a fever.

Because these initial symptoms are subtle, they often go unnoticed.

It can be years later before signs of immunodeficiency appear.  The cat’s health may deteriorate progressively.  Or the cat may experience periods of bad health and periods of good health.

Here’s what you may see:

Poor coat condition

Persistent fever with loss of appetite

Inflammation of gums and mouth

Abnormal appearance of the eyes

Wounds that don’t heal

Persistent diarrhea

Seizures

Behavior changes

Slow, progressive weight loss

Severe wasting (in later stages)

Change in urination habits

Several types of cancer are more common in cats with FIV as well.

4) How is it diagnosed?

Your vet will do blood work to diagnose feline immunodeficiency virus.  A blood test will detect FIV antibodies.

However, it takes 8 to 12 weeks for the antibodies to be detectable in the bloodstream.  So if your cat comes home with a deep bite wound, your vet will likely wait to test for this virus.

If you are adopting a kitten, having them tested before they’re 6 months old may not be useful. This is because kittens born to an infected mother will carry the antibodies from the mom until they’re 6 months old.  As a result, they’ll test positive even though they don’t have the virus.

And a cat that has been vaccinated against FIV will test positive even though they don’t have FIV. If you rescue a cat and don’t know their vaccination status, you might get a false positive on a blood test.

5) Can it be prevented?

It’s not likely your indoor cat will get FIV.  But if you’re concerned about an outdoor cat, keep them inside.

If your cat has FIV, keeping them in will protect other cats from getting the virus.  And it will minimize the risk to your cat of picking up other infections that will make them sick.

An infected cat is not likely to give an uninfected cat in your home the virus unless they are fighters.  Keep fighters apart.  And be sure to spay or neuter the infected cat to minimize the chances of passing FIV on.

Any adopted cat should be tested before bringing them into your home.  But remember if they’re younger than 6 months you may get a false positive.  Talk to your vet if you’re considering adopting a cat, especially if you have a kitty at home already.

If you bring a healthy cat into your home with an infected cat in it, that cat may expose the healthy cat to other serious infections.  Be sure to thoroughly clean the environment. Keep the sick cat’s food, water, litter boxes, toys and bedding away from the healthy cat.

Vaccinate against any other infectious diseases any new cat or kitten you bring into your home with an FIV cat in it.

Since I mentioned an FIV vaccine, you might think your cat should get it.  Although an FIV vaccine exists, it’s not effective and most vets don’t recommend it.

If your cat spends time in a cattery or another home with felines, be sure those cats don’t have FIV.

6) Is there a treatment?

There is no cure for FIV.  Therapy will consist of treating the infections.  Most cats with it can live normal lives for years.  But you must manage their health.

You can extend the asymptomatic period by feeding your cat a well-balanced nutritionally complete diet like Husse to keep their immune system functioning as long as possible.

Never feed a cat with FIV a raw diet.  Uncooked meats carry the risk of food-borne infection, a risk a healthy cat may handle but not one that’s immune compromised.

Your vet will want to see your cat every 6 months to maintain continued good health. But once an infected cat has had one or more severe infections, the outlook is not good.

Keep watch for any changes no matter how subtle and call the vet if you notice anything out of the ordinary.  Early intervention in managing infections is essential to maintaining your felines quality of life.

Does your cat have FIV?  How have you managed it?  Share your experience in the comment section at the top.

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