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Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a disease that causes suppression of the immune system that may limit a cat's ability to protect itself against secondary infections caused by common bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi. FIV infection occurs worldwide, with prevalence varying by location.1 FIV is contagious and spreads from cat to cat, typically through biting and fighting, making intact, aggressive male cats that spend time outdoors more susceptible to the disease.

Signs of Possible Infection

Cats are experts at hiding disease. Early signs of infection are often subtle and frequently produce the observation "My cat simply isn't feeling well." These signs include decreased appetite, grooming and energy. As infection becomes more advanced, you may see the following signs:

  • Marked loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Pale gums
  • Mouth sores
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Abscesses

Cats often show no signs of infection, so it's important to ask your veterinarian about FIV testing as part of your cat's annual wellness exam.

Testing

If your cat displays these signs and you think your cat may have the disease, see your veterinarian. He or she will check the cat's history, look for clinical signs, and possibly administer a blood test for FIV antibodies. FIV affects 2-3% of cats nationwide and testing for the infection is easy. Testing identifies those cats that must be kept isolated from other cats in order to curb the spread of the infection. There are tests that can be performed right in your vet's office with results in minutes, allowing you to consult with your vet before leaving. Early detection will help you maintain the health of your cat and prevent spreading infection to other cats. With proper care, infected cats can live long and healthy lives.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), an organization of veterinarians with a special interest in the health of cats, urges you to have your cat tested for FIV. Infected cats can live for years if diagnosed early and managed properly.

Management

While there is no cure for FIV infection, there are several things you can do to help an infected cat lead a normal life. Keep in mind that your cat may appear healthy on the outside when there may be an underlying condition such as anemia occurring on the inside. Your vet can run tests to evaluate your cat's health.

If you have a cat that tests positive for FIV, you should visit your vet twice a year to track your cat's progress, make sure your cat is getting the proper nutrition and keep your cat indoors and isolated from other cats in the household to reduce the chance of a secondary illness. Spaying or neutering your cat will also reduce the tendency for your cat to fight and/or mate, thereby decreasing the ability to spread the virus.

Strategies for FIV Testing

The American Association of Feline Practitioners states that every cat's FIV status should be known. Speak to your vet about screening your cat for FIV infection.

1 Hartmann K. Feline immunodeficiency virus infection - an overview. Veterinarian J. 1998;155:123-137.

Q. Can people get sick from a cat with FIV?

A. The Cornell Feline Health Center (FHC), a veterinary medical specialty center devoted to improving the health and well-being of cats everywhere, notes that Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is quite limited in the ways it can be transmitted to cats, the only animals the virus is known to infect. The bite of an infected cat is required to transmit disease to an uninfected cat. There is absolutely no evidence that any person has ever been infected with FIV.

Q. Can a cat give FIV to her kittens?

A. Although it has been documented, transmission of FIV from mother to kitten is rare, so kittens are not as likely to be infected as adults.

Q. How do cats get FIV?

A. FIV is spread contagiously from cat to cat, and typically through biting and fighting, making aggressive, intact male cats that spend time outdoors more susceptible to the disease.

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