FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) is a potentially fatal viral disease whereby the cat’s immune system is weakened.
There is no cure but there is prevention! It is recommended to have your cat vaccinated for FIV if he/she likes to spend time outdoors.
How is FIV spread?
The virus is shed in high levels in the saliva therefore FIV is primarily spread through bite wounds. Sexual contact is not a major route of transmission. Cats in a household that have a stable social structure and are non-aggressive towards each other are at little risk of acquiring FIV infections. FIV is not commonly spread through sharing food bowls and litter boxes, social grooming and other casual modes of contact. An infected mother can transmit the infection to her kittens via the birth canal or infected milk, however this occurs on rare occasions.
There is no risk of a human catching HIV/AIDS from a cat with FIV.
Which Cats Are Most Prone to FIV?
Any cat is susceptible to contracting FIV. Outdoor cats are at highest risk as they are more likely to be involved in cat fights. Cats who live indoors are the least likely to be infected.
How do you stop cats becoming infected?
The risk of infection can be minimised by housing your cat completely indoors. Night time is the most common time for cats to fight. If it is not possible to house your cat indoors 100% of the time, it would be ideal to confine them to a garage/laundry of a night time. Desexing you cat will also reduce territorial behaviours and the tendency to fight. There is a FIV vaccination available.
How is it diagnosed?
FIV can be diagnosed via an in-house blood test. The blood test looks for an immune response (antibodies) to the virus. If this test is positive, it is likely that your cat has been infected by the virus. Cats that present to the clinic for being ill or with a cat fight abscess or wounds may be recommended by the vet to be tested for FIV.
Prior to being vaccinated for FIV for the first time, all cats (over 6 months of age) should be tested. This also applies to cats sharing a household with a FIV positive cat. The timing and the type of test used is very important. Our veterinarian will recommend the best test and timing for your cat.
My cat has tested positive to FIV – what does this mean?
Infected cats may appear to be normal for years however when the immune system becomes weakened, the cat’s ability to protect itself from infections is compromised. This means that organisms (bacteria, virus, fungi, protozoa) that are normally found in the everyday environment can cause severe illness.
Cats should not be euthanised for testing positive. FIV positive cats can still live a long and happy life. They usually have a long period (many years) where they do not show clinical signs. The healthier your cat is, the longer this period tends to be. By ensuring your cat is on a good quality food, up to date with worming and vaccinations and that infections that occur are treated promptly and aggressively, your cat can still live a long and happy life.
It is recommended that FIV positive cats are housed completely indoors to reduce the spread to other cats and to also minimise the risk of acquiring an infection. If you have a multi- cat household and they have a stable social structure, there is a low risk that in-contact cats will become infected. Having said this, all in-contact cats should be tested and vaccinated.
The term “AIDS” refers to the terminal stages which may not occur for many years. FIV positive simply means that your cat has been infected by the virus and your cat will remain infected. Not all cats with FIV will develop disease however infected cats generally have a shorter lifespan.
What are the signs of FIV?
A cat that is infected with FIV may progressively deteriorate health wise or have recurrent periods of illness and relative health.
Common clinical signs of FIV infection that have been reported include:
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
As the disease progresses:
- Weight loss
- Poor coat quality
- Chronic or recurrent skin, urinary and upper respiratory infections
- Gingivitis and sores in the mouth
A lot of these signs are non-specific to FIV and many other diseases can have similar clinical.
How can Dr Paws help?
One way to help safeguard your feline friend is to administer the FIV vaccination.
There are 5 subtypes of FIV. Vaccination protects against subtype A, which is the most common Australian subtype. Cats that are sharing a house with a FIV positive cat should be tested, we can discuss this with you in detail during the consultation.
Kittens: Require 3 vaccinations at intervals of 2-4 weeks from 8 weeks of age. Annual boosters are then required for life to maintain immunity.
Adult cats: adult cats (over 6 months of age) being vaccinated for the first time require an FIV test to ensure there is no existing FIV infection.
Call us for more information. Alternatively, fill out a form here and we will be in contact with you.
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