What is FIV?
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a virus specific to the cat family. It is a cat-specific disease and cannot be spread to humans or other animal species. It is in the same class of virus as HIV of humans; however, ONLY cats can get FIV. FIV most commonly causes weakening of the cat’s immune system. There are no specific signs of FIV infection. Since FIV causes a lowered immune system, this reduces the ability of the cat to respond to other infections such as upper respiratory infections, ringworm, and dental disease. This means that many clinical signs associated with FIV are due to other non-healing infections.
How Does it Spread?
The most common route of infections is a deep bite wound from an FIV-positive cat to another cat. It can also be transmitted via blood, in utero and from milk of an infected mother cat. The FIV virus is not able to survive for very long outside of living cells. This means it is very rare for cats to contact FIV just from being around infected cats, sharing food bowls, grooming, or from a person touching an FIV-positive cat and then touching an FIV-negative cat. Many FIV-positive cats and FIV-negative cats can live together in the same home for years without spreading the virus to noninfected cats.
How is it Diagnosed?
There are no obvious signs of FIV. The only way to know is to do a blood test called an ELISA test (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay). The blood test can detect antibodies to the virus. An antibody is a protein made by the cat in response to an FIV infection. If this test is positive it means that the cat has produced antibodies to the virus, and it is likely that your cat has been and still is infected by the virus. In a household with multiple cats it is important to test all the cats when one cat tests FIV-positive. Cats that test negative should be tested annually when living with an FIV-positive cat.
Signs & Symptoms of FIV
There are no obvious signs of FIV. The only way to know is to do a blood test called an ELISA test (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay).
FIV causes disease because it reduces the ability of the cat’s immune system to respond to other infections. Infections that the cat would normally be able to overcome and clear become prolonged, chronic, or recurrent. This means that many of the clinical signs associated with FIV are due to other non-healing infections. The signs seen as a consequence of FIV are sometimes called feline AIDS. Common clinical signs of FIV infection include:
- Gingivitis/stomatitis- inflammation of the gums and mouth
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Fever- especially fever of unknown origin
- Inflammation of the membrane around the eyes- chronic conjunctivitis
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Most of these signs are non-specific and many diseases can have a similar clinical picture. Any cat with persistent or recurrent illness should be tested for FIV.
What is the Ideal Home for a cat with FIV?
Keeping an FIV-infected cat indoors is mandatory for the health of the neighborhood cats, as well as reducing the likelihood that your cat will pick up infections from other cats.
How do you treat FIV?
Unfortunately, there is no proven treatment to eliminate FIV infections. Healthy FIV positive cats do not require any specific treatment. Cats that are FIV-positive and have clinical signs are treated with appropriate medications and supportive care for those signs.
Tips for Cats Living with FIV:
You can help your cat by ensuring it has a healthy lifestyle including; healthy diet, environmental enrichment, and a twice yearly veterinary examination including blood and urine tests to monitor immune status. Any infections should be treated promptly.
An FIV-positive cat can live a long and fulfilling life without showing any clinical signs of infection. Ideally, these cats would be placed in a home with other FIV-positive cats or no other cats at all. However, the risk of infection spreading to your other cats by social contact is low; you may choose to keep the FIV-positive cat as well as your other non-infected cats. In this case, the positive cat should have a separate feeding bowl from the other cats and food should not be left out for all cats to share.
Call your Veterinarian if your FIV positive cat is Experiencing:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Oral inflammation
- Neurologic disorders
For other helpful tips and information, visit the Pet Health section on our blog.
This post was written by our Cat Care Supervisor Morgan Libby, and made in Collaboration with information from Veterinarian Dr. Healy!