Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is the feline form of HIV (the virus that creates AIDS). While FIV is just as serious for cats as AIDS is for humans, first understand that FIV only infects cats. Humans, dogs, and other animals CANNOT catch FIV from cats or by any other means. FIV cats are dangerous to other cats, but they pose no danger to humans. Just as the name implies, the feline immunodeficiency virus works to weaken a cat’s immune system. The FIV cat reaches a point where it can no longer fight off or recover from normal diseases.
When testing for FIV, the veterinarians of Healing Springs simultaneously test for the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). While these are separate and distinct viruses, they both work to suppress a cat’s immune system, they both create the same symptoms, and they both are highly contagious. Together, FIV/FeLV contribute to more feline deaths than any other disease.
How FIV / FeLV Spread:
FIV / FeLV spread more easily than their human counterpart. Cats can spread these and other diseases through saliva. Stressed cats often exchange saliva when they encounter one another by hissing at each other. Even cats separated by a screen door can exchange feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia virus. The viruses also spread through bite wounds and sexual contact.
What to Look for:
The FIV / FeLV infected cat needs to be diagnosed as early as possible. While these diseases are often fatal, proper treatment and care can help them lead happy lives over normal, long, lifespans. Veterinary testing serves as the only way to diagnose FIV / FeLV. Outward signs exist, but FIV / FeLV present no sure symptoms. Some cats do not present outward signs of illness for weeks, months, and even years after they become infected. All this time, the disease can be progressing within them, and they can be spreading the disease to other cats. This is part of the reason why routine testing as part of general wellness screening is so important.
Possible outward signs include:
• Weight loss
• Bite wounds
• Infected wounds
• Not drinking water
• Bleeding or pale gums
• Behavioral changes
• Grooming changes
• Dull or matted coat
• Swollen lymph nodes
• Mouth sores
With proper care, infected cats can live long, happy lives. The first step is identifying an infection. Infected cats often show no outward signs initially, but a single blood test conducted at Healing Springs Animal Hospital can simultaneously test for FIV and FeLV.
Once FIV / FeLV has been detected, veterinarians can help you setup special disease management strategies designed to lengthen the healthy, enjoyable life of your cat. Treatments and strategies may include:
• Drugs that can boost the immune system
• Diligent vaccinations against secondary infection
• Excellent nutrition (usually Science Diet)
• Semi-annual wellness screenings
• Isolation indoors
• Spaying and Neutering (to prevent escapist and disease spreading behaviors)
An FIV vaccine is available, but it is usually reserved for multiple cat households that have presented with one or more FIV infections. The FIV vaccine has two problems: (1) it is not 100% effective and (2) it causes the cat to always test positive for FIV in the future whether the cat is really infected or not. Since the FIV vaccine causes false positives on blood tests and since it does not protect 100%, the vaccine can actually cause an infected cat to not receive proper care after an infection. For this reason, vets usually reserve the FIV vaccine for high risk situations.
Feline immunodeficiency virus / feline leukemia virus (FIV / FeLV) contribute to more feline deaths than any other disease. They work by weakening a cat’s immune system. They are highly contagious and can be spread just from one cat hissing at another. Symptoms are not a reliable means for monitoring a cat’s health status. Annual or semiannual wellness screenings will enable you to identify FIV / FeLV in a timely fashion. With timely identification and a good care plan, many FIV / FeLV cats live out normal lifespans, happily.