Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a major viral infection in cats. Although it is similar to HIV (AIDS) in people, FIV is species-specific, which means it can only be transmitted from cat to cat, not to humans or other animals.
What is FIV?
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a lentivirus. Lentiviruses typically only cause disease slowly and thus infected cats may remain healthy for many years before showing signs of disease. Once a cat has been infected with FIV, the infection is usually permanent and in curable.
How can my cat contract FIV?
FIV is present in the blood and saliva of infected cats but as it cannot survive for long outside the body and requires a high dose to cause an infection. It is not easily transmitted from cat to cat. The most frequent way FIV is spread isviaa bite from another cat, when the virus in the saliva of an infected cat is injected introduceddirectly into the blood of the cat it bites.For this reason, male cats that fight often are most likely to be infected. As the virus cannot be transmitted via food, feeding bowls, bedding or hands, the virus spreading within groups of cats which do not fightis highly unlikely.Occasionally infection is transmitted from an infected mother cat to her kittens, during the birthing process or via her milk. Sexual contact is not a major means of spreading FIV.
How does FIV cause cat diseases ?
Many FIV infected cats are able to live happily with the virus for a long period of time, and in some cats the virus will never cause any clinical disease.
FIV infects cells of the immune system (white blood cells) compromising their normal function. This means that as the disease progresses, germs found in the everyday environment--where they usually do not affect healthy animals--can cause severe illness in those with a weakened immune system caused by FIV. These secondary infections are responsible for many of the cat diseases associated with FIV.
Although there are no specific signs associated with FIV, typical signs include:
- • Weight loss
- • Lethargy
- • Fever
- • Gingivitis and stomatitis (inflammation of the gums and mouth)
- • Enlarged lymph nodes
- • Chronic or recurrent intestinal, respiratory, ocular or skin disease
- • Neurological disease (in some cats the virus can affect the brain)
What treatments are available?
The main aims when managing an FIV-positive cat are firstly to prevent the spread of infection to other cats and secondly to maintain a good quality of life for the infected cat.FIV positive cats should be neutered and kept indoors to reduce the risk of fighting and spreading infection. Maintaining good health by vaccinating and using regular flea and worm control, in addition to feeding your cat a high quality diet is very important. Avoiding raw food helps reduce the exposure to pathogens which may be harmful to the cat.Some antiviral medications used in human patients with HIV infection (such as interferons and AZT) have also been shown to help some cats with FIV infection but these can be expensive.
It can be upsetting to receive a positive FIV diagnosis for your cat, but with good preventative healthcare and support from your vet, most cats with FIV can live many happy, healthy years.