Understanding Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)


Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a common and significant infectious disease that affects cats worldwide. It attacks the immune system, leaving cats vulnerable to various infections. While there is no cure for FIV, recent studies have shown that cats with FIV can live normal lifespans, as long as they are not also infected with feline leukemia virus.

How FIV is Transmitted

The primary mode of FIV transmission is through bite wounds from an infected cat. Casual contact or sharing water bowls does not efficiently spread the virus. Cats in households with stable social structures, where fights are rare, are at little risk of acquiring FIV. Transmission from an infected mother cat to her kittens is possible but uncommon. Sexual contact is not a significant means of spreading FIV among cats.

Prevalence and Risk Factors

In North America, approximately 2.5-5% of healthy cats are infected with FIV. The prevalence is higher among sick cats and those at high risk of infection. Unneutered male cats with outdoor access, particularly those prone to fighting, are at the greatest risk. Currently, there is no commercially available FIV vaccine in North America. The best way to reduce the risk is by limiting contact with potentially infected cats and keeping them indoors. Testing all cats within the household is also recommended.

Clinical Signs and Progression

FIV infection has three phases: the acute phase, the asymptomatic phase, and the progressive phase. The acute phase occurs 1-3 months after infection and usually includes mild symptoms such as fever and lack of appetite. During the asymptomatic phase, which can last for months to years, infected cats show no signs of illness. However, blood work abnormalities may be detected. In the progressive phase, cats become immunocompromised, leading to the development of secondary infections. Chronic infections, gum inflammation, severe dental disease, and even cancer and neurological disorders are common in cats with FIV. The severity of these illnesses varies, but survival time is generally limited once multiple critical infections or cancers occur.

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Diagnosis and Testing

Determining the FIV status of cats is crucial, especially when they are first acquired, if they become ill, or regularly if they have any exposure risk. Antibody tests are commonly used to diagnose FIV. However, a single test may not always provide a definitive result. Negative antibody test results can occur in recently infected cats or those in the later stages of infection. Positive results may be due to FIV antibodies transferred from infected mother cats or previous FIV vaccinations. To confirm infection status, additional techniques and tests may be necessary.

Treatment and Management

While there is no definitive cure for FIV, infected cats can lead normal and healthy lives for many years with proper management. The primary goals of managing FIV-infected cats are reducing the risk of secondary infections and preventing the spread of the virus to other cats. Keeping cats indoors and spaying/neutering them minimize the chances of transmission. Feeding them nutritionally complete diets and avoiding raw food further reduces infection risks. Regular wellness visits and close monitoring are essential for early detection of any signs of illness. Prompt evaluation and treatment of secondary infections are crucial. Treatment for the virus itself is limited, but ongoing research is exploring different antiviral therapies.

Prevention and Human Health Concerns

The best way to protect cats from FIV is to prevent their exposure to the virus. Keeping them indoors and away from potentially infected cats reduces the risk significantly. If an infected cat lives in a household, testing and separating infected cats from non-infected ones is ideal. Thorough cleaning and disinfection are necessary when introducing a new cat into an environment previously occupied by an FIV-positive cat. It’s important to note that FIV is highly species-specific and does not infect or cause disease in humans.

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To learn more about FIV and how to protect your cat from this infectious disease, visit Katten TrimSalon.

Last updated 2021