The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a virus that is possible for cats to acquire. In fact, Cornell University Feline Health Center states that FIV is much like the human virus Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). In cats, FIV attacks their immune system. Unfortunately, this makes cats who are infected prone to other infections.
Has your cat been diagnosed with FIV? If so, you’re not alone. Cornell University estimates that in the United States alone up to 3% of healthy cats have the virus. The number is much higher when it comes to cats who are sick. About 15% of cats who are not considered healthy have acquired FIV.
There isn’t a known cure for FIV. Thankfully there are ways to keep a cat who is positive for the virus comfortable. As well as options to protect the cat’s immune system from further damage.
FIV in Cats (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus): What Cat Owners Must Know
How Does a Cat Get FIV?
The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is commonly spread through the saliva. The most common way for a cat to get FIV is through a bite. But, the virus may also be spread through scratches. In some cases it’s been reported that it may also passed down during birth.
As stated above, FIV is like human’s HIV. But, cats can NOT give humans FIV. You’ll find this virus only in cats. But, once infected, the cat will have the virus for the rest of their life.
FIV Symptoms in Cats
Once a cat is infected with FIV, it may take years for any symptoms to appear. An enlarged lymph node is often the first sign of a cat who is carrying the virus. Fever usually accompanies the swelling. Enlarged lymph nodes may be the first sign of FIV in cats. But, they often go unnoticed. Thankfully there are other signs cat owners can look for. Signs that are a bit more noticeable.
- Dull coat. Cats who suffer from FIV may have a coat that doesn’t look as great as it once did. Their hair may even begin to fall out.
- Gingivitis and stomatitis. Both gingivitis and stomatitis is common in cats who have FIV. Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. Stomatitis is inflammation of the mouth. Both of these can cause severe dental and overall mouth discomfort.
- Decrease in appetite. A cat who suffers from FIV may also have a noticeable decrease in their appetite. Some cats may even lose their appetite all together.
- Chronic skin infections. In addition to a frail coat, cats who have this virus may also suffer from skin infections on a regular basis.
- If a cat is infected with FIV, it’s quite possible they will have diarrhea often.
- Behavior changes. Another change you may experience with this virus is a difference in the cat’s behavior. These changes can range from timid to aggression.
- Seizures and Neurological Changes. Due to the nature of this virus, a cat who has it may suffer from neurological changes. Changes such as seizures and altered awareness.
- Eye problems. Eye problems are common in cats that have FIV. One common issue is inflammation of the cornea.
According to PetMD at least 30 percent of cats with FIV suffer from upper respiratory tract disease. While as many as 50 percent of cases will suffer from gingivitis.
Diagnosis FIV In Cats
The only way to see if a cat has FIV is by obtaining a blood sample. Once the blood sample is obtained, a veterinarian will use a special test for antibodies. These test are rapid tests. So, you should be able to receive the results shortly after the blood is drawn.
In the event of a positive test, your veterinarian will discuss a treatment plan with you. If the test is negative, it may still be recommended that your cat has a retest done. The test used to test for FIV is extremely accurate. But, depending on the stage of the virus, false negatives are possible.
Treating Feline Immunodeficiency Virus In Cats
As stated above, there is absolutely no cure for FIV. Unfortunately, there is also no antiviral available at the moment. The treatment a cat receives focuses on keeping the immune system boosted. It also focuses on treating any symptoms that are caused by the virus.
According to veterinarians, it is quite common for FIV-positive cats to acquire some type of fungal or bacterial infection. This is when a veterinarian will prescribe an antibiotic or antifungal medication to control the infection.
Due to the nature of FIV, regular veterinarian visits are recommended. During these visits, your veterinarian may recommend a urinalysis and possible blood work. This is to ensure that your cat is comfortable even with what they’re going through.
Preventing The Spread of FIV
Fortunately, the Feline Immunocompromised Virus cannot live long outside of a cat’s body. You can also easily kill the virus by using common disinfectants. The virus is easy to kill. But, you should still take preventive methods.
Keep your cat indoors.
A lot of cats enjoy the ray of the sunshine. In a way, that’s where the issue lies. We all know how territorial cats can be. Also how unfriendly they can be towards unfamiliar faces. The last thing you want to experience is FIV-positive catfighting with your cat.
Test all cats in the household.
When you acquire a cat, ask if they were tested for FIV. If they do not have a recent test, make sure your veterinarian tests them right away. Then, as a precaution, your veterinarian may recommend retesting in 6 months. What if one of your cats tests positive for the virus? If this happens, you’ll want to have all cats tested right away. You’ll want to repeat the testing again in about 6 months.
Consider the vaccine for FIV.
If your cat enjoys roaming outdoors your veterinarian may recommend they get the vaccine available to prevent FIV. The same is true if a cat in your home has this virus. You may want to consider having all other cats in the home vaccinated for FIV.
FIV and Other Cats
Nothing is more heartbreaking than finding out your cat has FIV. This is especially true if you have other cats in your home. You may wonder how this is going to impact your current situation. With a close eye on your part, FIV positive and negative cats can live together in harmony.
As long as your two cats are a friendly, bonded pair there shouldn’t be an issue. This may not be the case if your crew is more of the aggressive, playful type. Then you may need to consider some rearranging.
FIV is spread through a cat’s saliva. You should consider this if you have a crew that likes to bite, scratch, and roughhouse. In that case, you’ll, unfortunately, want to separate your feline friends. This is to ensure that your other cat’s are not infected by the virus.
Cats Most Likely to Acquire FIV
The FIV virus isn’t cat gender, age, or breed-specific. It is possible for any cat to catch the virus. There are some cat groups that are more likely to acquire and spread the virus though.
Unneutered male cats are the most common type of cat to test positive for FIV. This is most likely due to their high testosterone levels. As most cat owners know, an unneutered male cat can be quite territorial.
Outside cats are the other group most likely to acquire FIV. Let’s face it, cats who go outside tend to roam. They like to explore their surroundings. But, that journey can change if another cat comes into their territory. As well as if your cat enters another cat’s territory.
The Prognosis For FIV in Cats
In most cases, cats who are positive for FIV live long lives. They hardly have any complications from their diagnosis. This is usually the case if the virus is caught early. As well as if a proper treatment plan happens as soon as possible after diagnosis.
There is an unfortunate reality behind FIV though. As a general rule, cats who test positive for this virus have a life expectancy of about 5 years. This being most likely if a cat is showing symptoms. The same applies if the cat isn’t in good overall health.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is NOT a Death Sentence
As you know, there isn’t a cure for FIV. Just because your cat is diagnosed with the virus doesn’t mean an automatic death sentence. Like you read above, may FIV positive cats go on to live long lives. Despite the virus, the majority of their lives they are healthy.
The most important things you need to remember in regards to FIV is: prevention, symptoms, and treatment. You’ll need to educate yourself on the vaccine available for prevention. It’s also important that you learn more about the symptoms associated with this virus. Symptoms of FIV can mock your common virus. Plus, remember most of the time cats who test positive do not show any symptoms.
You also now know that unaltered male cats are the most prone to becoming infected. Male cats, especially those who aren’t altered, should stay inside. Just like all cats, they should also undergo regular FIV testing done by a veterinarian.
The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus doesn’t automatically have a poor prognosis. But, the symptoms can come on quickly. As a result, you may end up with a very sick kitty. If you are unsure about your cat’s status – make sure to get them tested as soon as possible! If the end result is positive, make sure you start a treatment plan with your veterinarian right away.
Remember it’s important to follow through with all recommendations made by veterinarians. There’s no exception when it comes to FIV. Whatever your veterinarian recommends, it’s important to follow through. You should also make sure to complete any routine blood work that needs to be done. This is also true for any other lab work that may need to be completed.
All you need is a little time and patience. It’s important that you dedicate these traits to your cat. If you do this, you’ll be able to continue living, and loving, life with your feline best friend.