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FELINE IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS

As its name suggests, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is closely related to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), responsible for causing AIDS in people. There is no cure for either disease, and the virus causes the gradual destruction of the white blood cells needed to protect the body against infectious diseases. However, the two viruses will only survive inside normal host species – in other words, there is no risk of humans catching FIV from a cat, or vice versa.

 

How does the virus spread?

Biting is considered to be the most important method of transmission of FIV. The saliva of an infected cat contains large amounts of virus and a single bite can result in transmission of infection. Infection can also occur by close social contact within a group of cats where there is no overt aggression, via the sharing of food bowls and mutual grooming. Infection may pass from mother to kittens during pregnancy (through placenta) or as a result of the mother licking her offspring or biting the birth cord. Unlike HIV there is no evidence FIV is sexually transmitted.

 

What happens to my cat if it is infected?

In the first few days after it is infected your cat may show signs of ill health, such as a slight fever, but this often goes unnoticed. Most cats recover from this early stage and appear perfectly healthy for months or even years. Eventually other signs develop as a result of the depressed immune system and an inability to fight infection.

These signs include lethargy, swollen glands, dull coat, fever, weight loss, inflammation of the mouth, discharging eyes, diarrhoea and if the nervous system is affected, behavioural changes, convulsions and dementia. Signs are more severe if the cat is also infected with Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV). Some forms of cancer, particularly lymphoma are more common in FIV infected cats.

 

How widespread is the infection and which cats are most at risk?

FIV is more common in some areas than others, depending on the population density and type of cats in the area (house cat/ stray/ farm cat). Entire males and feral cats are most at risk, as they are most likely to fight. Any cat can be infected at any age, but there is often several years between infection and development of clinical signs. Therefore the disease is most often seen in older cats between six and ten years.

 

How do I know if my cat is infected?

Until a cat starts to suffer from a series of infections as a result of its failing immune system, there is usually no reason to suspect that it is infected with FIV. An in-house blood test is available to detect antibodies to the virus in apparently healthy animals. The test is not 100{c30ddf26c8e8213cb48863ffab783535ab04d34a51b7feafd4298625679b40f0} accurate, and a more complicated test looking for the virus itself can be used.

 

What can be done to help my cat if it is infected?

As there is no cure for the infection, treatment usually consists of supportive therapy, including antibiotics when required.

There is no vaccination available in the UK, and unfortunately when infected, cats are less likely to produce a good response to other vaccinations. Please discuss your cat’s individual vaccination needs with your vet.

 

 Will my cat’s lifestyle need to change?

Infected cats ideally should be confined indoors to prevent spread of the virus to other cats in the neighbourhood and to minimise the exposure of affected cats to infectious agents carried by other animals. Ideally infected cats are kept in single cat households, but cats that live in small stable groups are unlikely to fight.

Good nutrition and husbandry are essential to maintain good health in infected cats. A programme for routine control of parasites (fleas, ticks and worms) together with a routine vaccination programme should also be maintained. Six monthly checks with the vet are also recommended. Intact male and females should be neutered.

 

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