Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) Infection

Has my cat got feline AIDS?

Being FIV positive is not the same as having feline AIDS. AIDS describes the terminal stages of disease which may not occur for many years. FIV positive means that your cat has been infected by the virus.

Are my family at risk?

NO, though HIV in man belongs to a similar group there is no risk of cross infection.

Are other cats in the household likely to be infected?

Other cats in your household may already be infected. Generally, however, spread between cats through social contact is very poor so the majority of your cats may well be FIV negative.

Are other cats in the household at risk?

Risks to other cats in the household is low unless the cat that is infected is a fighter. The virus does not survive long in the environment so disinfection is not of great value. It is advisable that the positive cat is fed from a separate food bowl as saliva can have large amounts of virus in it.

How do cats get FIV?

FIV is transmitted primarily by biting, cats which are known fighters particularly those with a history of cat bite abscesses have a higher risk of being FIV positive. Kittens can also be infected at birth probably through virus that is present in the queen's milk. Around a quarter to a third of kittens born to an infected queen are likely to be infected themselves. Normal social interactions such as grooming, have a very low risk of transmitting FIV.

How is FIV diagnosed?

FIV is diagnosed on a blood test. If this test is positive it is likely that your cat is infected by the virus. False positive and negative results do occur for a variety of reasons. Kittens under 4 months of age that test positive should be retested when they are six months old.

Will my cat recover?

As far as we know, once a cat is infected with the virus it will remain infected for the rest of its life, though it is not clear if all infected cats will become ill.

What type of disease does FIV cause?

FIV causes disease because it destroys the cat's immune system so it becomes unable to respond to other infections in the normal way. This means that cats with many types of disease can be FIV positive, such cats are characterised by chronic or recurrent infections that fail to respond to treatment in the normal way. Common clinical signs of FIV infection include:–

  • Inflammation of the gums/mouth
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Fever
  • Inflammation of the membrane around the eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea

A lot of these signs are very non-specific and many diseases can have a similar clinical picture.

Is there any treatment?

Secondary infections can be effectively treated with antibiotics etc. but no specific treatment for the virus is available.

Should I have my cat euthanise?

Like HIV, cats with FIV have a long period where they appear healthy and show no clinical signs. This period can last for two to five years or perhaps even longer during which your cat can have a normal, happy life.

How can I help my cat?

You can help your cat by ensuring it has a healthy life style and good quality food together with regular worming and yearly booster vaccination. Any infections should be treated promptly and aggressively. The healthier a cat is the longer the asymptomatic period tends to be. Keeping your cat indoors is also a good idea as it reduces the likelihood of your cat picking up infections from other cats as well as reducing the spreading of the virus from your cat to other cats.

How do you stop cats becoming infected?

As most cats become infected from bite wounds during fighting, the risk of infection can be minimised by making sure your cat is neutered and, where possible, kept in at night as this is the most common time for cat fights.

One cat in my household is FIV positive and the others are not, what should I do?

Where there are healthy cats at home, there are two options:

  • Re-home the FIV positive cat to a house with no other cats.
  • As the risk of infection spreading to your other cats by social contact is low, many people choose to keep the FIV positive cat. In this case, the positive cat should have a separate feeding bowl from the other cats and food should not be left down for all cats to share.

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