Feline immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a viral disease which interferes and destroys the immune system of infected cats leaving them susceptible to infections and disease. It acts in a very similar way to HIV infection in people and eventual leads to feline acquired immunodeficiency Syndrome (feline AIDs), which ultimately can be fatal. It’s important to note that FIV is not the same virus as HIV and cannot be transferred to people.
FIV is most commonly spread by bite wounds inflicted whilst cats are fighting. The other means of spread, which is far less common, is from mother cat to her kittens either in utero or through her milk. Recent research show that 15% of cats with outdoor access tested positive to FIV in Australia, having the highest prevalence rate worldwide. With outdoor access being the primary risk factor for FIV infection research suggest that although kitten owners intend for their cat to have an indoor lifestyle, 80% of pet cats spend time outdoors. Other risk factors include neutering status with entire cats more likely than de-sexed cats to have infection.
When initially infected the majority of cats show no signs of infection at all. Some may show very transient signs of being unwell such as fevers, lethargy, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, swollen lymph nodes but these signs generally resolve and the cat appears healthy. The period between initial infection and start of signs related to the virus can be very variable from a year to 10 years. The signs of FIV infection are generally due to the suppression of the immune system and cats often succumb to other diseases as their immune system are too weak to fight off other diseases and infections.
Illness and signs can include:
· Loss of appetite and weight loss
· Persistent diarrhoea
· Infections (skin, urinary tract, respiratory, kidneys, gastrointestinal)
· Dental disease/inflamed gums
· Low red and white blood cell types
· Predispose to types of cancers including lymphoma, carcinomas and sarcomas
· Inflammation associated with the eye
· Behaviour abnormalities
A blood test can be run in the clinic between 60-90 days after suspected exposure to the virus - for example after a cat fight. Depending on the type of in-house test used, if a positive result is obtained a sample may then be sent to the lab for confirmation. Kittens can be tested but the test can yield positive results without true infection if they are under 6 months due to antibodies that they may have received in mother’s milk. In this case, we would recommend the test to be repeated after 6 months of age.
Unfortunately there is no specific treatment for FIV infection. The basis of treatment is usually focused around management and early diagnosis and treatment of specific diseases and infections.
· FIV infected cats should be confined indoors to prevent spread of infection to other cats
· De-sexing FIV infected cats is recommend
· Yearly vaccinations and strict parasite prevention regime
· 6 monthly health check –detailed physical examinations are very important for early detection of health problems
· Complete and balanced diets – avoiding uncooked food and unpasteurized dairy products due to risk of food borne pathogen
Although there is no specific treatment for FIV infection there are several things that can be done to prevent FIV infection.
· Vaccination - shown to protect 82% of cats. The course initially consists of 3 vaccinations 2-4 weeks apart followed by annual boosters.
· De sexing – decrease the change of your cat roaming and fighting
· Limiting outdoor access – ideally keep your cat indoors or at least at night when cats are more active or using an outdoor enclosure to limit their exposure to other cats
· FIV testing your new addition before introducing the cat into your household.