Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is an infectious disease that attacks a cat's immune system. It causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in cats, resembling AIDS caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in humans (although FIV cannot transmit to humans). In North America, a 2006 study of more than 18,000 cats found that 2.5% were positive for FIV.
FIV positive cats may appear normal for years, but their compromised immune system makes them more vulnerable to other infections. Normally harmless organisms found in the everyday environment, like bacteria, viruses, and fungi, can potentially cause severe illnesses. To obtain a diagnosis, testing is done using a small blood sample. A positive screening test is typically followed by a confirmatory test.
If an FIV-infected cat develops functional immunodeficiency (many do not), it often occurs years after they are infected by another cat. Common symptoms may include:
If your cat shows any of the symptoms above, it is essential to have them tested for FIV by their veterinarian.
Receiving the news that your cat is FIV positive can be difficult. Although FIV can be life-threatening, proper care and management can lead to a long, healthy life — allowing you and your cat to have many years of joy and memories together.
The following are some guidelines to assist in caring for a cat with FIV
If your cat starts showing signs of illness, prompt and accurate diagnosis is critical for a successful treatment outcome. Many cats infected with FIV respond as well as uninfected cats to appropriate medications and treatment strategies, although a longer or more aggressive course of treatment may be needed.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for an FIV infection. Although a significant amount of research is being devoted to developing effective treatment options for FIV, few extensive long-term controlled studies in naturally infected cats have shown long-lasting benefits of using antiviral drugs. These medications are limited and tend to show lower efficacy in feline patients compared with human patients. Due to the lack of proven effectiveness, and their toxicity, antiviral drugs are indicated only in exceptional cases of FIV infection.
FIV-infected cats need special care and management, as described above. If they receive this management and care, they can live for many years in good health.
FIV is cat-specific and can be transmitted from cat to cat, typically through bite wounds. Casual contact between cats, like grooming, poses little risk of acquiring FIV infections; however, a certain degree of risk remains. Transmission of FIV from a mother cat to her kittens or the spread of the virus via sexual contact is uncommon.
To limit transmission in a multi-cat household, the following is recommended:
If isolation is not possible or cannot be done, no new cats should be introduced into the household to reduce the risk of fighting.
Although the life expectancy of a given cat infected with FIV is highly variable and is impossible to predict, they can live normal lives for years if managed appropriately. Many succumb at an older age from causes unrelated to their FIV infection. Thankfully, many studies have shown that the survival time of FIV- infected cats can be similar to that of non-FIV infected cats.