Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
FIV is a condition similar to the virus that causes AIDS in people, although there is no risk of people catching AIDS from infected cats. It infects the white blood cells of the immune system, killing or damaging them. A healthy immune system is needed to fight infections and monitor for cancer in the body; so infected cats have a greater risk of disease and infection from other viruses and bacteria.
Once a cat is infected, then infection is permanent, carriers of FIV may show no symptoms of the disease for years. Between two to five per cent of the UK cat population is thought to be infected, but there is a lot of regional and local variation. Un-neutered male cats are more at risk.
- All cats – especially males – should be neutered to reduce their chances of catching FIV
- If you have an infected cat, your cat is a risk to other cats and contact should be kept as minimal as possible
- Infected cats can lead long and happy lives – but they should be kept indoors
What are the symptoms of FIV infection?
The symptoms following infection with the virus are usually mild. The cat may have a mild fever for a few weeks and there may be enlargement of the lymph nodes (the little lumps often referred to as “glands”) there may also be signs of malaise . But often, cats infected with FIV appear completely normal. They tend to recover from this early phase, eventually they will start to show other symptoms as they enter the latter stages these include long-lasting or recurrent diarrhoea, a runny nose and sneezing (rhinitis), inflammations of the eye and recurrent skin infections. Weight loss, loss of appetite, gum inflammation, conjunctivitis and anaemia are very common signs of the latter stages of the disease. They are also more likely to get some types of cancer.
How do cats get infected?
The virus passes from cat to cat in saliva, usually through biting in fights. Un-neutered male cats are considerably more at risk of getting FIV because a single bite may be enough to infect a cat. And a cat can be infected by biting an FIV-infected cat.
About one-quarter of the kittens born to an infected mother will be infected and there is a small chance that the virus can be transmitted through sharing food bowls and by cats licking each other during grooming. Blood testing is the only way as yet to diagnose this but it is not 100% accurate and may produce false negative or positive so additional testing is required.
In our experience, FIV positive cats can have, and deserve to have, a long and healthy life. They need careful attention to their general health and protection through currently available vaccinations against flu and leukaemia are essential. They should have a balanced complete feline diet but raw meat and eggs should be avoided. As soon as symptoms emerge they should be taken to a vet, prompt and effective management of secondary infections is vital.
We have homed several FIV cats and all have gone on to have long and happy lives with their new owners.”
“I realise that there is a deal of stigma for some owners about having a cat who suffers from FIV but-by way of this letter- please feel free to pass to prospective owners that he continues to lead a normal and happy life. If he purrs, eats and is affectionate-he’s happy and therefore, so am I”. This is an extract from a letter from a lovely man who homed one of our FIV cats.
One of the two cats above has F.I.V but you wouldn’t know which just by looking at them. It is in fact the top one. Smokie Joe came to us from a back garden in Birmingham he lived with many other cats and kittens none neutered and all dirty and underfed. a kind man took pity on them and got in touch with us saying he was feeding them but needed help. We caught and them all a few at a time, treated and neutered them, sadly not all made it being to ill. They were blood tested and unfortunately Smokie tested positive. We could not have him put to sleep as he was otherwise healthy and such an affectionate boy it would have been wrong, so after weeks of searching we found someone who understands his condition and the risks but could see past it and fall in love with him. As you can see he is living a happy life and looks like he has many years left to enjoy.