What is FIV?
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a lentivirus (slow virus) that causes Feline Aids. The virus attacks the immune system, making the cat vulnerable to infection. Cats with Feline Aids are develop multiple heath problems due to their weakened immune status.
FIV is not HIV and is no way related to HIV. There is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted from cats to humans or other species.
How is FIV spread?
The virus is most commonly transmitted via the saliva, through bite wounds. Cats are territorial animals and adult cats that spend time outside are at risk when they fight with other cats.
The frequency of cat fights always increases during breeding season (spring and autumn) even though most of the cats we treat for cat fight injuries have been desexed. Cat fights also occur when a new adult cat moves into an area.
Entire male cats that live outside are the highest at risk group because they are constantly fighting to defend their territory. These cats, which are often strays, represent a serious health risk to other well-loved cats living nearby.
How Common if FIV?
The incidence of FIV varies and is thought to be highest in the stray cat population. One survey reported an incidence as 15% of cats that spend time living outside in Melbourne. From our clinical perspective we diagnose FIV infection on a regular basis.
What symptoms are observed?
The infection occurs in two stages. During the initial phase of the disease many FIV infected cats appear healthy. Generally problems are not detected until stage two when the immune system weakens and other infections occur. At this stage the symptoms are variable but can include loss of appetite, weight loss, persistent diarrhoea, oral lesions or sores, and skin, urinary or upper respiratory infections. Some types of cancer are more common in FIV infected cats.
How is the disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis is made based on history, clinical signs and results from an FIV antibody test. A positive result in an unvaccinated cat shows that the cat is infected and will remain infected for life.
The best prevention is to make sure your cat does not come in contact with an FIV positive cat. This can be achieved by keeping your cat indoors.
There is a vaccination now available that provide more than an 82% chance of protecting your cat against FIV. We recommend this vaccine be given only to cats who go outside, have a negative FIV blood test and have a silicon chip. The vaccination will make the FIV blood test positive.
Recommendations for care and treatment of cats with FIV
Cats should be confined to reduce the chance of transmitting the disease to other cats and to limit the infected cat’s exposure to infection.
Regular veterinary checkups are necessary to monitor the cat’s condition and treat any secondary infection as quickly as possible.