The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) – Cat AIDS, was identified for the first time in 1986 by researchers from the University of California, but studies have shown that it was present in the cat population as far back as the 1960s. It is sometimes called Feline AIDS, because of the way in which the retrovirus responsible for the infection attacks the cat’s immune system, rather like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), but there is no evidence whatsoever that the feline virus can spread to people.
FIV is not limited to domestic cats — these Cheetahs have contracted the virus. It has been found in domestic cats in the UK, France, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, as well as in North America.
The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) spreads easily from cat to cat. It is present in saliva so those cats which fight regularly are most vulnerable to this infection. It is also possible for kittens to acquire the virus if their mother is infected: infection occurs when she bites through their umbilical cords at birth.
Symptoms Of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
The presence of FIV often leads on to a host of relatively minor infections at first because of the disturbance to the cat’s immune system. These often affect the cat’s mouth where the virus is present in the saliva, but FIV can be linked with a whole host of infections including long-standing problems affecting the digestive tract and respiratory illness, as well as tumours.
After a cat has acquired the virus, it is likely to take months –if not years – for the typical signsof infection to develop. A generalised enlargement of the lymph glands is a typical early symptom, coupled with loss of weight, a slight increase in body temperature and loss of condition, although these signs can be linked with other infections as well, including Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) which is related to FIV.
Once signs of immunosuppression become apparent, then the prognosis is bleak, as even with careful nursing, such cats have a life expectancy of less than six months. Overall, the course of the disease from infection to death lasts about two years on average. Neutering will reduce the possibility of your cat suffering from FIV because this reduces the likelihood that it will become involved in a fight.
- Unlike FeLV, FIV is not spread by indirect means, from equipment such as feeding bowls.
- According to studies, nearly 20 per cent of sick cats in the UK may be affected by FIV.
- Cats suffering from FIV are often afflicted by anaemia, with their bone marrow being affected by the virus.
- The use of the drug AZT which has been useful in treatment of human AIDS, has been tried for FIV, but its side-effects mean that it is not usually recommended, particularly as it will not eliminate the virus from the body.
How can I find out if my cat has FIV ?
A blood test can show whether your cat has been exposed to FIV, but it is likely to take at least three months after exposure to the virus for the test to prove positive; a negative test does not always mean that your cat is free of the virus.
Is there any treatment for this virus?
Unfortunately, not at present. Interest has focused on immunostimulants to boost the cat’s immune system and so fight the virus. There are hopes that a vaccine will be developed as well.
What can I do now that my cat is diagnosed as suffering from FIV ?
Keep him indoors, so he cannot spread the infection to other cats. This will also protect him from infections caused by bites which may be hard to clear up.