Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a virus that infects cats. Its presence in the cat causes the cat’s immune system to work much less well or not at all. A cat’s immune systems helps to protect the cat from infection. If it stops working the cat is more likely to become ill because it cannot stop infections from other viruses, bacteria and fungi (fungal infections).
The disease was first discovered in 1986 in a northern Californian cattery in the USA.
The particular virus that causes FIV is part of a group of viruses called lentiviruses. The virus that causes AIDS in people (HIV) is in the same group.
However, a cat with FIV cannot give the disease to a person. Neither can a person with AIDS infect a cat with his disease.
This virus is also a “retrovirus”. This sort of virus multiplies inside the cat’s cells as part of the cell’s DNA (DNA – molecules containing chromosomes and genes).
How Common is FIV?
In the United States it is believed that 2-4% of cats “in the general population” are infected with FIV. In the UK the percentage is believed to be 6%. Of all sick cats in the UK it is believed that 14% have FIV. These sorts of figures are probably about right for other countries.
Outdoor male cats in the age range of 3-5 are most likely to get FIV because they get into fights and get bitten which is a way of passing the disease from one cat to another. If a pregnant cat gets FIV she can pass it on to her kittens. Close contact between cats is not the most common way to get FIV.
The Three Stages of FIV
Infected cats go through three stages of illness:
- Cat is very ill
- Cat shows no signs of illness
- Cat has multiple illnesses and dies
Cat has a fever and swollen lymph nodes and may have diarrhea, skin infections and anemia. This lasts for up to about 6 weeks.
Middle or Latent Stage
This is called a “latent” period. This means the disease is present but not visible. This period can last up to about 12 years. Yes, a long time. The cat seems healthy during this time.
The cat shows signs of illness that are inline with the fact that the cat has no immune system. The illnesses are “unexplained”. This means there is no obvious reason for the illnesses that can be seen. As can be expected there are lots of health problems including:
- mouth and gum disease
- doesn’t want to eat
- loss of weight
- infections that show as colds
- ear infections
- Infections of the urinary tract
Got to see a vet for this. It will be complicated.
No effective treatment (at 2008). The only “treatment” is to minimise the risk of infection by:
- feeding with best quality food
- excellent parasite control (for example fleas)
- keeping your cat indoors
- low stress, gentle and comforting home
Stop cats roaming and fighting, There is a vaccine but there are problems with it. A vet’s advice is needed. Cats living in groups in homes should be tested. Cats with FIV should be removed from the others. See a good veterinarian.