FELINE IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS (FIV)
Note: The following information has been reviewed and approved by the Cornell Feline Health Centre at the College of Veterinary Medicine. It includes compatible information from the Cornell Feline Health Centre, the University of Guelph Small Animal Hospital and the American Association of Feline Practitioners. The Etobicoke Humane Society (EHS) does not – as an organization – dispense veterinary advice. EHS encourages you to discuss – with your veterinarian – all your pet health questions and concerns.
THE BASIC FACTS ABOUT FIV
What is FIV? (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus): It is a type of virus (Lentiviruses) that affects felines worldwide and is the cause of feline AIDS. It belongs to the same family of viruses as human HIV and HIV in other species.
Is there a FIV vaccine? YES. There is a relatively new vaccine with good results. It is a “killed” vaccine, so it reportedly cannot cause FIV. This vaccine was tested for 10 years and many vets consider it very effective. However, there is not 100 per cent agreement on all aspects of the vaccine. You should discuss the matter with your veterinarian.
· Vaccination with the FIV vaccine will result in a positive result on the currently used FIV antibody test.
· Therefore, cats should be tested for FIV virus prior to vaccination. If cats test positive, wait to re-test in two months before beginning vaccination.
How is FIV most commonly transmitted? The main method of transmission of FIV from one cat to another is through a bite wound during a catfight and from an infected mother to her unborn kittens, or through a blood transfusion. It is not transmitted through casual contact, such as grooming. Experimentally, the virus has been transmitted through semen. However, it is not known whether there have been any naturally occurring FIV cases from semen transmission.
Should a cat that has been bitten be tested for FIV? YES. Any cat bitten by a cat with an unknown medical history should be tested for FIV approximately two months after the bite.
Should FIV-positive cats be separated from FIV-negative cats? This depends on the situation. Many vets agree that, ideally, in order to minimize the risk of infection to FIV-negative cats, they should not be in homes with FIV-negative cats. However, there is general agreement that FIV is not commonly transmitted among cats that get along together. Cats that have been spayed or neutered generally get along with one another.
Can FIV-positive feline mothers give FIV to their kittens? YES. Female cats infected with FIV during their pregnancy can pass the virus to their unborn kittens.
Are other cats in the household likely to be already infected or to become infected? Possibly. If you have one ormore FIV-positive cats in your home, one or more may already have been infected and should be tested. FIV is not spread through normal social contact such as grooming, so the majority of your FIV-negative cats may still be negative when tested. However, an FIV-positive cat does present some risk to other cats.
Can FIV-positive cats live healthy lives for several years? YES. Cats can live several years with FIV and not show significant clinical signs. The prognosis may become less positive once more significant clinical signs occur.
How many cats are infected? Rate of infection in Canada and the U.S.A. varies from approx.1% (in healthy cats) to as high as 14% (in ill cats).
Is FIV linked to feline leukemia? FIV is often found in cats that are positive for the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), but they are separate and distinct diseases.
Is FIV transmittable to people? NO.
Is there a cure for FIV? NO. FIV is a lifelong infection and is associated with slowly progressive diseases.
Where is FIV in the body of a feline? FIV is known to be present in the blood, saliva and cerebrospinal fluid of infected cats. However, the virus is extremely fragile and does not survive outside the cat’s body.
How is FIV diagnosed? FIV is diagnosed by using a blood test which detects antibodies against the virus in the bloodstream of the cat. Veterinarians may test a cat for FIV if there are unexplained chronic symptoms of disease in a major body system. As well, the American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends testing cats being introduced into a household to prevent exposing any existing cats to the virus. Kittens under six months of age may carry FIV antibodies acquired from their mother without having the virus itself. Therefore, any kitten under this age that tests positive should be retested when over six months old.
FIV: THE GOOD AND THE NOT-SO-GOOD
1. FIV-positive cats may live for many months or years. With good health care aimed at recognizing and treating FIV associated problems early, these patients can enjoy good quality of life.
2. FIV is not highly contagious through casual contact. FIV is transferred only by saliva to blood or blood-to-blood contact and from pregnant females to their unborn kittens.
3. A significant puncture wound would need to occur for an infected cat to transfer FIV to an uninfected cat. This type of transmission is relatively unusual in a household where all cats get along well and are spayed/neutered.
4. That means sharing a litter box or food bowl, minor scuffles or grooming each other will not pass FIV from one cat to another. (However, many vets recommend that if you have an FIV feline in your home, you avoid exposing other cats or bringing new cats into your home. This reduces the risk of additional health threats to your FIV cat’s reduced immune system and reduces risk of fights leading to puncture wounds/bites.
NOT SO GOOD
1. Even with no symptoms, four to six weeks after infection, the white blood cell count declines and some cats will have swollen lymph nodes.
2. Some cats have a fever, anemia or diarrhea at this early stage. FIV is toxic to a type of white blood cell, the T helper cell that is critical to a healthy immune system.
3. This virus slowly depresses the function of the cat’s immune system leading to chronic health problems and opportunistic infections. The rate of progression varies from feline to feline. Some live symptom-free for years.
4. Many FIV-positive cats have chronic inflammatory conditions of the teeth and mouth. Other chronic problems such as diarrhea, pneumonia, skin disease, sinus infections, some eye diseases as well as neurological problems have been seen in FIV-positive cats.
5. Many vets recommend that, in order to reduce risk of infection of non-FIV cats, no new cats are exposed or brought into the home where FIV cats reside.
1. Cats should be tested for FIV BEFORE being vaccinated.
2. Because the FIV test currently available is an antibody test, any cat vaccinated with the FIV vaccine will test positive on this test. It is believed that an antigen based FIV test will become available in the near future to help determine whether a positive result is due to infection or vaccination. Because FIV vaccinated cats will show positive on the antibody test, it is recommended all cats be FIV tested.
3. Any sick cat should be tested for FeLV and FIV.
4. It is generally recommended to do FIV and FeLV tests on all kittens eight to nine weeks old. If the FIV test is positive, it is recommended that the kitten be isolated and tested again at six months of age.
5. It is recommended that all stray cats be tested for FeLV and FIV. Cats that test positive for FIV, but have no symptoms, should be isolated and tested again in two to three months.
6. Specialists recommend that all adult cats at risk be periodically tested for FeLV and FIV to allow for identification of infected cats, enabling owners to take appropriate steps to protect their cat and prevent spread of infection.
7. If one cat tests positive in a multi-cat household, it is recommended that all cats be tested.
MAXIMIZING THE HEALTH OF FIV CATS
1. All efforts should be taken to preserve their health by protecting them against other diseases and injury.
2. Get them spayed or neutered.
3. Keep them indoors to protect from injury and other illnesses (and to prevent spread of the disease).
4. Get routine vet checkups with a focus on recognizing and treating FIV associated problems early.
5. Feed them healthy high-grade food.
6. Quickly seek medical care if symptoms of infection or illness occur.
7. As much as possible, provide a stress-free environment. For some cats, this will mean a home in which they are the only pet.
8. If one cat tests positive in a multi-cat household, it is recommended that all cats be tested.
WHICH CATS SHOULD BE GIVEN THE FIV VACCINE
1. Vaccinate any cat that spends even a small amount of time outdoors.
2. Vaccinate any cat exposed to other cats that spend time outdoors.
3. Vaccinate any cat that might have the chance to escape to the outdoors.