Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Yes, cats can get AIDS too.  Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is within the retrovirus family, like the HIV virus, however it is not infectious to people.  It is thought that up to 4% of healthy cats and up to 14% of sick cats are infected with FIV.

FIV infection is spread by aggressive, biting behavior or by sexual contact.  Thus, entire male cats are the group at highest risk of contracting the virus.  However, any cat that spends a large proportion of its time outdoors and in contact with other cats is at risk.  Once a cat is infected, there is a variable latent period while the virus spreads through the body.

The good news is that FIV in cats is a much more stable virus than HIV in humans.  This means that there is a large proportion of cats with FIV and living healthy, normal lives.  The virus itself does not usually cause illness, however as the virus suppresses the immune system, infection with the virus means that the cat is susceptible to secondary infections.  Signs of illness will accompany these secondary infections, and frequent infections are likely what will alert your vet to the possibility of infection with FIV.  Common secondary infections include skin infections, respiratory infections, such as at flu and gingivitis, among many others.  Symptoms of fiv in cats (at the end-stage) will be diarrhea, fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and anemia.  FIV is diagnosed using a simple blood test.

So how do we prevent infection?  Well, one way is to raise cats as indoor cats to ensure that their contact with infected cats is minimized.  In recent years, a vaccine has been developed against FIV, however it is not 100% effective.  Initially, a series of three injections is required, after which the cat should be vaccinated yearly.  As cats that have been vaccinated will test positive for the virus using the basic blood test, cats over 6 months should be tested for the virus prior to initial vaccination.

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