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Feline Immunodeficiency Virus FIV

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): Protect Your Pet
There are several diseases that prey on cats alone, and the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is one of the worst.  As a responsible pet owner, not to mention a friend of your furry feline, learning about this deadly disease, how to find out if your cat carries it, and most importantly, how to prevent it, should be high on your list of priorities. 

What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)?
Part of this virus’s name may sound familiar to you, and so will some of the symptoms.  Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is the feline version of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).  FIV is a species-specific disease, and cannot be transmitted to humans.

You may have no idea that your pet is infected with FIV.  Cats with FIV may function just fine and appear to be completely normal for many years.  Eventually, however, FIV will weaken their immune system and your cat will slowly lose his or her ability to fight off normal infections.  A common cold, as with a human infected with the HIV virus, can be a seriously life-threatening illness.  FIV isn’t usually a direct cause of death – but secondary infection is.

How Can You Tell if Your Cat Has FIV? FIV exhibits itself in many ways.  Early on in a FIV infection, there may be enlargement of lymph nodes and often an accompanying fever.  This symptom may not be noticeable, however, unless you are looking for it specifically or the infected cat’s lymph nodes are swelled to an unusually large size.

Later in the course of the infection, as the immune system is weakened, an infected cat’s health may steadily deteriorate.  Or the cat may appear perfectly healthy, but have occasional, but regular, illnesses.  FIV can also manifest itself in several aspects of a feline’s appearance and behavior, including some, but not all of the following symptoms:

  • Dull and lifeless coat
    Persistent fever and appetite loss
    Gingivitis (gum inflammation)
  • Recurring infections in the skin, urinary tract or bladder, and upper respiratory tract
  • Recurring diarrhea
  • Persistent eye conditions
  • Steady weight loss, and severe weight loss toward the end of the disease
  • Cancers or blood diseases
  • Reproductive failures in unspayed females

What is the Best Way to Protect Your Cat From FIV?
You can best protect your cats from FIV transmission by keeping them indoors.  FIV is most often transferred through biting, and outdoor males (with their aggressive natures and typical love of a good fight) are most frequently infected. 

If you have several cats indoors, and you find out that one of them carries the infection, don’t immediately assume that they all do.  Everyday, casual contact doesn’t usually spread FIV, much like the human AIDS virus, and as long as your cats are well adjusted and minimally aggressive, there is little risk of the spread of a FIV infection.

There is a vaccine that is designed to help protect against FIV, but not all vaccinated cats will be immune.  Preventing exposure is the single most important thing that you can do to keep your pet safe.  If you do decide to have your veterinarian administer the FIV vaccination to your pet, please be aware that this could influence any future FIV test results.  Be sure to discuss the pros and cons of the FIV vaccine with your veterinarian before you decide to have your cat vaccinated.

If you have more than one cat, and know that they are all FIV-free, make sure that any other cats that you bring into your home are free of FIV as well.

How Can You Test Your Feline for FIV?
After reading about the ways that FIV shows (or doesn’t show) itself, you may be slightly panicked.  Suspecting that your pet has FIV is traumatic and scary thing.  But if your feline’s coat isn’t looking as shiny today as it did yesterday, don’t immediately assume the worst.  There are ways to diagnose your cat.

There is a common blood test, administered by your cat’s veterinarian, which detects the raised antibodies that signify the presence of FIV.  If your cat tests positive, showing FIV antibodies in his or her blood, this indicates that the FIV infection is present in your cat.  False-positive results can occur, so if the initial test shows FIV, your veterinarian will most likely recommend that a different test be performed to confirm the positive diagnosis.

If you have a FIV-positive, pregnant feline, her kittens may test positive for several months following their birth.  Few of these kittens will actually become infected with FIV, however they should be tested again every 60 days until they are at least six months old.

If your cat tests negative, he or she is most likely not infected with FIV.  However, it may take up to 12 weeks after infection before your cat’s antibody levels are detectable.  If you suspect that your cat has been exposed to FIV, re-testing is recommended at a 60- day interval.

If Your Cat Tests Positive for FIV, What Should You Do?
If your cat is diagnosed with FIV and has lived with your other cats for some time, all other cats in the house should be tested.  The best case scenario in this situation would be to separate all of your infected cats from the non-infected cats in an attempt to eliminate the possibility of disease transmission.  If this isn’t a possibility, or if your cats are fairly docile and don’t fight or play rough, the chance that the FIV infection will be spread is minimal.

Cats with FIV should be handled with extra special care. One necessary precaution you should take is to make sure that your cat stays indoors to minimize spread of the FIV virus to other cats in the neighborhood.  This will also serve to further protect your pet, as he or she will be more susceptible to infections carried by other animals.  Spaying or neutering your infected pet, if they have not been already, will further prevent the spread of FIV.

There have been a number of caring pet owners that upon finding that their cats are infected with FIV open their homes to other cats with the virus.  These compassionate people ensure that a number of FIV-infected cats live out the happiest life possible, despite their disease, and they provide a loving home as an alternative to euthanization.

Make sure that your pet has a balanced diet, to ensure that they are receiving all of the vitamins and nutrients necessary to fight off infection.  If you’re not sure what to feed him or her, check with your veterinarian.  Keep raw meat and eggs away from your pet, as the same bacteria that cause illness in humans can be dangerous to your pet’s weakened immune system.

Schedule wellness visits with your veterinarian at regular six-month intervals.  Wellness checkups are important for all pets, but if that your veterinarian knows that your cat has FIV, he will perform a thorough exam, paying special attention to potential signs of trouble.  A special blood count and a urine analysis should be performed annually.

If your pet is infected with FIV, monitor his or her health closely.  Under the best circumstances and with care and love, an infected cat may live several months, or even years.

Adopting a New Pet
There are no proven treatments for FIV, but hopefully through the ongoing fight to find a cure for HIV, a similar treatment may be found for cats.  If you are adopting new cat, or considering the FIV vaccine for a pet already in your household, talk to your veterinarian and be informed of all aspects of the disease.  Being informed on this deadly disease is essential to protecting your pet.

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