FIV in Cats | Guide to Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

We are all well aware of the difficulties that the HIV causes for the human being. Our immune system weakens over the period of several years, unable to fight the dangerous and life-threatening infections that are all around us. Well, unfortunately, cats as well can have their own version of HIV or AIDS. The condition is called Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV, for short.

FIV in cats is more common than we think, putting an end to many cats’ lives.

In today’s article, we will discuss the details of this potentially dangerous condition. From causes and symptoms to ways to diagnose and treat it. Most importantly, learn how to prevent your cat from ever contracting the FIV!

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In this article:

  • What Is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) in Cats??
  • How do Cats Get Feline Immunodeficiency Virus?
  • Symptoms of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus 
  • How to Diagnose FIV in Cats 
  • How to Treat FIV in Cats 
  • Prevention of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) in Cats
  • Can I Get FIV from My Cat?
  • Final Thoughts

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What Is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) in Cats?

So you might wonder what is FIV in cats and how dangerous it really is. Let us explain.

FIV is short for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, a lentivirus that affects cats worldwide; with approximately 2.5-4.4% of cats currently affected by this virus. [1]

The FIV causes immunodeficiency in domestic cats all around the world. We are talking about a specific class of retroviruses. The lentivirus that is a very slow moving virus which explains why cats do not develop any symptoms for quite a long time.

As you may know, the term immunodeficiency refers to the inability of the body’s immune system to stay strong enough to fight bacterial and viral infections.

The immune system is no longer able to develop a normal immune response against various infections.

Most cats living with the Feline immunodeficiency virus do not develop symptoms for a long time. Luckily, they still have a normal life expectancy.

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However, during their life, they are more prone to developing infections and suffering through various medical issues. Some of these medical issues might mean an end to the cat’s life as well.

Once the Feline immunodeficiency virus gets introduced to the cat’s body and its organs, it settles into the DNA of the cat and starts to replicate itself at a slow rate.

The replication process can take months, in most cases even years until any symptoms develop. This might remind you of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which leads to the development of AIDS through the process of replication.

How do Cats get Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)?

But how do cats get FIV in the first place? The FIV virus must be transmitted from an infected cat to another in order for the second cat get infected with the FIV.

Similar to how the HIV is transmitted among humans; through blood and in utero, the FIV is transmitted through the same ways.

The most common way for FIV to be transmitted is from a deep bite wound from an infected cat to another.

The virus can also be transmitted from an infected mother cat to her babies in utero and through her milk as well. This is another reason why the Feline immunodeficiency virus is also known as the cat HIV. [2]

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It is highly uncommon for the virus to transmit itself by cats sharing the same food bowls, toys, clothing, etc.

Unlike the HIV, which is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact, the FIV is quite rarely transmitted this way. Although, traces of FIV can be found in an infected cat’s semen.

A human touching an infected cat and then touching another cat is also unlikely that will transmit the virus from one cat to another. Actually, it is possible for two cats, from which the one is living with FIV, to live together and for the second cat never to get affected by the virus.

Symptoms of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Years could pass until the first symptoms of FIV show up. Actually, there are no specific symptoms and signs of the FIV in cats.

Feline AIDS symptoms differ and occur as a result to the weak immune system of the cat which now is unable to fight as it is supposed to and that is why the cat gets sicker and sicker, getting affected by secondary infections.

Most commonly, it is the respiratory system that is affected by secondary infections and shows symptoms. Your cat can also develop tumor growths due to the presence of FIV in its body.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, please do consult a veterinarian:

  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Anemia
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Gingivitis
  • Change in behavior

How to Diagnose FIV in Cats?

As always, your veterinarian will probably perform a physical exam and run some labs. A full blood test will tell him/her everything that there is to know if it is, in fact, the FIV that your cat is dealing with.

Cats are tested for the presence of FIV antibodies in their blood, the same as the humans are tested for the presence of HIV in their blood.

If your cat is FIV positive that does not mean that it will develop symptoms during its life.

However, your cat is still capable of transmitting the infection to a healthy cat. Therefore, you should definitely watch more closely for any symptoms in the future. [3]

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How to Treat Feline Immunodeficiency Virus?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Feline HIV, as there is no cure for AIDS among humans.

What your veterinarian will do is treat the secondary infections and their symptoms and perform anything that he/she can in order to improve the general well-being of the cat.

You, as its owner, will need to watch out more closely for any symptoms and report them right away to the doctor. If the secondary infections are not treated properly, they will lead to an end of the cat’s life. Their immune systems will be too weak to combat these infections anymore.

Prevention of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) in Cats

Although there is FIV vaccine that you can use in order to protect your cat against the Feline immunodeficiency virus, this vaccine is rather controversial and most commonly not recommended by veterinarians.

What you can do though, is limit the contact of your cat with other known-FIV positive cats as much as you can.

If your cat is living at home, you should consider about not letting her out in areas where it can meet stray cats which can very easily be FIV positive. Although we mentioned earlier that FIV positive and negative cats could live together, we would advise you not to risk your or your cat’s chances and limit their contact as much as possible.

We would also advise you to test your and any other cat while it is still a kitten in order to find out whether or not you are taking care of FIV positive cat.

Remember – every cat’s owner should know whether or not their cat is FIV positive or not in order to prepare for what might come in the future.

Can I get Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) from my Cat?

Not to worry. It is impossible for a human being to get the Feline immunodeficiency virus. The FIV is only transmittable from an infected cat to a healthy one.

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Final Thoughts: FIV in Cats

Feline immunodeficiency virus in cats, much like the human immunodeficiency virus in humans, puts the cat’s life in danger. Therefore, making your cat more sustainable to infections.

Although the infected cat can live a long and healthy life, probably without any symptoms in the first years after the diagnosis is all set up, it is still at risk of developing life-threatening infections since its immune system is not strong enough to combat them.

Get your cat tested and find out whether or not you are taking care of FIV positive cat or not. That information can help you take better care of your cat’s health now and in the future.

Your cat deserves all the care and love that you can give it!


About the author of this article:

Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed believes in providing knowledgeable information to readers. Other than his passion for writing, Dr. Ahmed spends his time outside the hospital, either reading or at the gym.


References

[1] http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0103-84782008000800024

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feline_immunodeficiency_virus

[3] https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_ct_feline_immunodeficiency_virus_infection

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