What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)?

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a virus specific to the cat family and is known to attack and weaken the immune system and can be likened to HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the cause of AIDS in people). FIV leads to increased susceptibility to infection and other disease.

How do cats get FIV?

The most common way that FIV is transmitted between cats is through cat bites. Infected cats shed the virus in their saliva, with transmission occurring when an infected cat that is actively shedding the virus into the saliva bites another cat, directly inoculating its saliva through the bite wound. Less commonly the virus may be transmitted via other bodily fluids such as blood.

FIV positive cats should be kept indoors where they cannot infect other cats. Likewise, cats that don’t have FIV can stay protected by keeping them indoors also. Although the risk of transmission via social contact is low, it is not impossible. It is for this reason that FIV positive cats should be kept separate from infected cats within a household environment.

Is my family at risk?

No! Although HIV and FIV belong to the same family of viruses, they infect different species. FIV infects cats only.

How is FIV diagnosed?

FIV is diagnosed through a blood test that detects antibodies associated with the virus. If your cat has been bitten by another cat with an unknown medical history, it is recommended that a FIV test is performed approximately 8 weeks following the bite. It can take up to 8 weeks for a cat to develop antibodies to FIV, so a cat that has been recently infected may produce a false negative. False positives may occur if a cat has been vaccinated against FIV, as the test cannot differentiate between antibodies produced by the disease and vaccine-induced antibodies.

What are the symptoms of FIV?

Because FIV targets the immune system, symptoms will only appear once the cat develops a secondary infection. Many of the clinical signs are due to other non-healing infections. Signs may include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lymph node enlargement
  • Gingivitis
  • Chronic or recurrent infections
  • Salivation
  • Abscesses
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abortions or stillbirths
  • Conjunctivitis and Uveitis
  • Weakness

Most of the signs are non-specific. Infections that a cat would normally be able to recover from become prolonged and chronic.

Will my cat recover from FIV?

As far as we know, there is no cure for FIV. Once a cat becomes infected with the FIV virus, it will remain infected for the rest of its life. It is not clear if all infected cats will become clinically ill. It may be weeks, months or even years after initial infection before a cat develops clinical signs.

How can I help my FIV positive cat?

Ensuring your cat has a healthy lifestyle and is fed a high-quality diet is a good start. Raw diets should be avoided as the pathogens that may be found in these diets may be more likely to cause illness. Twice yearly examinations including blood and urine tests are important to monitor immune status. Any infections and illnesses should be treated promptly. It’s also important to ensure your cat is up to date with parasite control to minimise the risk and effects of parasite burdens.

How can I keep my cat safe from FIV?

As most infections are transmitted via bite wounds, keeping your cat indoors will help to minimise the risk of infection. Desexing your cat will also help to minimise aggression and the desire to roam, and subsequent cat fights. An FIV vaccination is available and should be considered for any cats that make outdoor visits or come into contact with other cats.

The first FIV vaccine can be given at 12 weeks of age. The initial course consists of three doses, given two weeks apart e.g. 12 weeks, 14 weeks and 16 weeks. A yearly FIV booster is required.

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