Feline Immunodeficiency Virus can go undetected in cats for years

What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus?


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Australia loves cats! Close to 30% of all Aussie homes have cats (many more than one) and this totals nearly four million pet cats. We need to safeguard these precious family members from Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) – because like the human equivalent HIV, there isn’t a cure.

Unlike HIV however, there is a Feline Immunodeficiency Virus vaccination. Thanks goodness to the scientists who developed that one to protect our furry loved ones. *Sigh of relief*

So exactly what is this Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, how is it transmitted and what are the symptoms? Find out here.

Understanding Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a viral infection found in cats. It belongs to the same family of viruses as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and can affect cats in a similar way. Because of this it’s often referred to as cat AIDS or cat HIV.

Much like the human equivalent, cats may become infected long before symptoms begin to emerge. And similarly, the virus works by weakening the immune system so eventually it’s unable to fight off other illnesses.

As a result, infections and sickness that would otherwise be a passing event can rapidly become medical emergencies.

cat with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus has a fever

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus symptoms

Because cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus aren’t able to actively fend off infection, they can fall victim to recurring and prolonged illness with chronic feelings of sickness. As a result, symptoms we associate with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus symptoms are caused by other infections that easily take hold.

Common symptoms of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus are:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Chronic conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane around the eyes)
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever (especially fever of unknown origin)
  • Gingivitis (gum disease)
  • Poor appetite
  • Poor coat condition
  • Seizures
  • Stomatitis (inflamed sore mouth)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

If your cat is persistently unwell, exhibits any of the known symptoms or has a recurrent illness you should have them tested for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. A cat with FIV may still be able to live a good life provided they aren’t exposed to pathogens and are given a healthy lifestyle.

It’s possible for cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus not to show any symptoms for years and there’s no guarantee that a seemingly healthy cat isn’t carrying the virus.

Read about pet vaccinations and ask your vet whether they recommend vaccinating against the virus.

How is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus transmitted?

The most common FIV transmission is through cat fights that result in deep bite wounds because FIV infected cats shed the virus in their saliva. One way to reduce the prevalence of such incidents is to spay or neuter your female or male cats to upend rivalrous confrontations around mating.

Pregnant FIV infected cats sometimes transmit the virus to their unborn kittens, though this is less common than transmission through bite wounds. The virus is not usually spread via mutual grooming, mating or sharing of food or water bowls. However, these may still pose a risk.

Can my other cats become infected?

If one of your cats tests FIV positive, your asymptomatic cats could already be infected. You should test all your cats and if they test negative ask your vet whether/when they recommend vaccinating. Provided your cats get on well and don’t fight the risk of transmission is low (but not impossible).

It may be advisable to keep infected and non-infected cats in the same household apart. If this isn’t possible, then cats mustn’t share feeding bowls or litter trays. And these will need to be routinely disinfected after use.

Desexing is definitely on the cards in this situation, both to prevent aggression and fighting and possible transmission to kittens. It would also be unfair to bring home any new cats that may also risk becoming infected.

mother cat transmits to Feline Immunodeficiency Virus to kitten

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Prevention

The FIV vaccination is considered to be non-core. This means it’s not routinely administered in pet vaccine schedules unless vet recommended. Free roaming cats (especially males) are most at risk of transmitting FIV so if your cat fits this profile they may benefit from inoculation.

Key preventative measures can include:

  • Regular vet visits
  • Desexing cats
  • Diet (remove raw food that could carry harmful bacteria)
  • Keeping an indoor cat
  • Vaccinations (check what your vet says)
  • Separation from FIV-positive cats

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus treatment

While no cure exists, medications and lifestyle changes can help optimise your pet’s quality of life. Here are some ways to manage the condition:

  • Diet. A quality diet that’s easy to digest can help keep your cat healthy (speak to your vet for a recommendation)
  • Routine vet checkups. Regular vet visits every six months can help root out any potential health concerns
  • Hygiene. Good hygiene will help prevent infections. Keep your cat’s food and water bowls, bedding and toys as clean as possible. Consider a water fountain to maximise cleanliness for drinking water
  • Treating infections. Prompt and aggressive treatment of infections (with your vet’s guidance) can help to combat them
  • Indoor cat. Keep infected cats indoors to minimise their exposure to infectious diseases from other cats and limit the spread
  • Medication. Your vet may prescribe a number of medications. These range from anti-inflammatories and immune system boosters through to antiviral therapy and fluid/electrolyte replacement
  • Parasite control. Flea and tick treatment is an important part of limiting stress on your cat’s immunity

Cat insurance for a healthy happy cat

Vet visits, prescription medicine and hospitalisation can easily rack up a mound of bills. That’s why having a reliable and affordable cat insurance plan gives you peace of mind and helps pay these bills.

It’s important to get a pet plan when your pet is healthy. Why? Because pet insurance can’t cover the treatment costs for pre-existing conditions.

We offer one or more months of free insurance if you sign up with us online so why not take two minutes to get a quote…

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