Written by Dr Lisa Reynolds
Did you know that cats have their own version of immunodeficiency virus very similar to HIV in humans? Unfortunately they do, and it might be more common than you think.
What is FIV?
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is known as a retrovirus and can cause a syndrome in cats similar to AIDS in people, where the immune system is damaged by the virus over time.
In cats the virus is most commonly spread via saliva and so if your cat can roam outdoors and gets bitten by an infected cat during a fight, then they too can become infected.
What will FIV do to my cat?
FIV infects important cells of the immune system. These cells protect your cat from common infections, and so an FIV-positive cat may find it difficult to fight off simple infections that a normal cat would easily be able to do.
This all tends to happen very slowly over time, and what we see most commonly are mouth and skin infections, but sometimes respiratory or eye infections can also be a problem.
On the other hand some cats live a full life with absolutely no sign of the virus at all
How do I know if my cat is infected?
Testing for FIV is very simple and only involves a small blood sample where we look for FIV antibodies. The test is usually done 'in house' and so results are very quick.
Occasionally we might have to send away for a special test that detects the actual virus, but your vet can decide which is best for your cat.
Can I prevent it?
YES! The best news is that there is a vaccine available for FIV.
The vaccine can be started early in life when kittens are getting their first flu vaccines or can be started later in life. Talk to your vet about what might be the best program for your cat.
Other prevention measures include:
*Keeping cats indoors or secure in a 'cat enclosure'
*Have a new cat tested before joining your household – especially if you have other cats.
I'm thinking of adopting an FIV-positive cat, what does it all mean?
It's really important to remember that FIV does not condemn your cat to a life of sickness, or even a shorter life expectancy. Most FIV cats live a long, healthy life so if you are considering adopting a FIV-positive cat here are the things to keep in mind:
- These cats should be kept strictly indoors with outdoor access restricted to a cat enclosure – remember your cat can infect other cats if it bites them.
- If you already have cats at home you should have them tested and vaccinated before introducing the FIV-positive cat
- Keeping up to date with all your preventative health measures is essential. Annual flu vaccinations plus worming and flea treatments, along with good quality nutrition, all play a very important role in keeping an FIV cat’s immune system as healthy as possible.