What is FIV? Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

iStock_000064268055_SmallFIV or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a lentivirus (lentivirus means slow virus. Lente is Latin for slow) that affects cats all over the world. Approximately 2.5% to 4.4% of the cats in the world have contracted the virus.

What is FIV?

FIV is very similar to the human version of HIV.  The virus destroys the number of white blood cells in the body and makes the cat less able to fight infections.  Currently there is not a cure for this so if your cat is diagnosed with FIV they will have it for the rest of their life.  However, if your cat is diagnosed, it doesn’t mean they should be put down. Cats with FIV can have long lives if cared for properly.  Even though it is similar to HIV the virus can’t be passed on to humans.

Is my cat at risk of catching FIV?

Two friendly cats on spring

If your cat is allowed to roam outside, then they will have a higher risk of contracting it. Male, un-neutered cats are the highest risk due to territorial fighting.  The virus is found in blood and saliva.  It is generally passed on after being bitten during a fight.  Also, while mating, a male might hold hold the scruff of the female’s neck with his teeth and bite her, passing the virus onto her. However, this is less common.  Currently these is no evidence to show the virus can be passed on via intercourse. Generally, being bitten is how a cat will contract it. If a female with FIV gives birth to kittens, at least ¼ of the litter will have the virus passed on to them via the placenta or by drinking infected milk.

If you want to eliminate the risk of your cat catching FIV you would have to keep them indoors at all times. However, you will need to ensure you keep them mentally stimulated. Going from the great outdoors to being permanently inside may have an effect on them.   Ensuring your cats are spayed/neutered is another way to lower the risk, especially with males. They are less likely to roam get into fights if they have been neutered.

What happens to my cat once infected?

Once your cat is infected the virus will travel to the regional lymph nodes, then will travel to other lymph nodes around the body. They may show symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, fever, anaemia and malaise (a general feeling of discomfort).  There is a possibility you won’t notice they are ill.  As mentioned, this is a slow virus so the infected cat could continue to lead a healthy life for several years. However, over time their immune system will weaken and they will find it harder and harder to fight off infections and other viruses.

When signs of immunodeficiency appear cats can show a range of symptoms such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Poor coat condition
  • Anemia
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Gingivitis and stomatitis
  • Diarrhea
  • Chronic or recurrent infections of the eyes, skin, urinary tract and respiratory tract
  • Cancer

Please note: Symptoms may vary from cat to cat.

Can my cat be cured?

As already mentioned, there is no cure for FIV. However, with the right care your cat can lead a fairly normal, long life. Your cat may need some or all of the following:

Regular check ups at the vets
Ensure they take their flea and worm treatments
At the first sign of illness take them to the vet
Feed them on high quality food (your vet will be able to advise on the type of food)
Ensure they are fully vaccinated
High calorie supplements (again your vet will advise you on these)
Possible blood transfusions in the later stages

I have more than one cat. Do I have to keep them apart?

iStock_000072018089_SmallIdeally, all FIV cats should be isolated or rehomed where they won’t come into contact with other cats.  However, many owners choose to keep them. The risk of passing on the virus is low as cats in the same home are less likely to fight and shed blood. If all the cats have been spayed/neutered there will be a low risk of aggressive behavior. You will need to be a bit more careful. As the virus can be found in the saliva, don’t feed your cats from the same bowl and disinfect feeding bowls and litter trays after use to ensure you destroy any trace of the virus. It’s worth noting too that the virus can’t survive in the open air so as soon as it is outside of the body it will not survive very long so can’t infect others.

Hopefully, this blog has answered some of the main questions about FIV. Should you have further questions about this subject please call us at the clinic or you can leave your question on our Facebook page