What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)?

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ginger cat being treated for feline aids

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV, is a virus similar to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It was first discovered in a colony of cats that showed symptoms similar to humans with AIDS.

FIV does not have its own unique set of symptoms. Rather, signs of infection with this virus will show as generalized weakened immunity. The bad news: once a cat has FIV, their bodies will always carry the virus. The good news: cats with FIV can have healthy and happy normal lives for many years after becoming infected.

FIV Meaning: What is FIV in Cats aka Feline Aids?

Like HIV, feline immunodeficiency virus is a retrovirus, which belongs to a group called lentiviruses. Typically, lentiviruses only cause disease slowly. Felines infected with these viruses might remain healthy for many years after contracting the virus.

Feline immunodeficiency virus does just that: it causes a deficiency in the immune system of the cat. FIV infects cells of the immune system such as lymphocytes. The virus may damage or kill these cells. This compromises their normal function which is to protect the body against pathogens. Therefore, your cat is more likely to get ill when exposed to other opportunistic infections and infectious diseases.

How is Cat FIV or Feline FIV Diagnosed?

Firstly, your kitten’s doctor will want to do a thorough physical examination. Thereafter, they will take a sample of blood. This blood is used for an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). This test screens for FIV-specific antibodies that might be present in your feline’s blood.

An FIV positive test result will be confirmed by sending a sample of blood to a commercial laboratory for another test: The Western blot test.

Should your kitty test positive, your veterinary doctor will want to do a full diagnostic workup. They will also do blood work, and a urinalysis to check kidney function.

fiv cats sick kitten presenting with fiv in cats

Breeding: Are There FIV Cat or Cat Aids Genetic Markers?

The feline immunodeficiency virus transmits between cats via infected saliva. The most common method of infection is from bite wounds or scratches between fighting cats. Rarely, FIV is transmitted through mating. That being said, studies have shown the presence of the FI virus in semen. The virus can pass from a pregnant female to her kittens. But this is very rare. The FI virus can also spread through blood transfusions.

Genetics may play a part in how quickly the disease escalates in an individual cat’s body. Yet, there is no genetic susceptibility for infection from this virus.

10 Common Feline HIV or FIV Symptoms to Look Out For

Feline immunodeficiency virus is a slow-moving pathogen. It can take months, or even years, to incubate. Many kitties will not show symptoms of FIV for the first few years. The signs and symptoms that you are likely to notice first will be due to secondary infections, infectious diseases, and chronic degenerative conditions. Symptoms of FIV may include:

  • Poor coat condition.
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss, and weakness.
  • Mild to moderately swollen lymph nodes.
  • Pneumonia, as well as other upper respiratory infections.
  • Persistent diarrhea.
  • Skin disease and external ear infections. These are caused by the bodies’ lack of response to minor fungal and/or bacterial infections.
  • Inflammation in the mouth and gums (chronic gingivitis).
  • Neurological issues. These may include abnormal sleep patterns, behavioral changes, and changes in vision and hearing.
  • Sinus infections.
  • Cancer, especially feline leukemia and lymphoma (cancer of the white blood cells formed in the lymphoid tissues of the body).

cat being treated for feline immunodeficiency virus

Think Your Cat is FIV Positive? Take Your Cat to the Vet!

If you have any suspicions as to the health of your furry friend, your first port of call should be your veterinary clinic. Our pets cannot tell us in as many words as we would like how they are feeling. To keep tabs on their health, and to nip illnesses in the bud, it is best to take your comfort animal to the veterinarian for regular check-ups!

The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Treatment Options

Treatment may not be necessary right from the beginning. Also, most treatments will be for secondary infections and not for the FIV itself. At home, closely monitor your pet for any signs of secondary infections.

Prevention is Better Than a Cure: The FIV Vaccine

Thanks to modern science, there are several diseases that we do not have to worry about our beloved pets contracting. One can prevent the spread of diseases such as rabies, canine distemper, feline and canine parvovirus, and feline leukemia virus by administering the correct vaccinations.

There are vaccines for feline immunodeficiency virus. However, these vaccines do have a few shortcomings:

  • Not all cats gain protection from FIV from the vaccine.
  • Additionally, not all kitties are ideal candidates for receiving an FIV vaccine.
  • The vaccine for FIV does not protect against all FIV strains.
  • The ELISA blood test that tests for FIV detects the antibodies that act against the virus. It does not detect the virus itself. When your cat receives a vaccine for a disease, their bodies form antibodies against that specific disease. If you were to do a test for FIV on a cat vaccinated against FIV, the test will show a false-positive result.

The Prognosis of an FIV Positive Cat

So, you have received the FIV positive diagnosis. Chin up. There is a lot that you can do to keep your feline friend around for many years to come!

Together with your veterinarian, you can put together a plan to keep your kitty healthy and happy for as long as possible:

  • To keep an eye on your cat’s weight, symptoms, and general health; schedule regular check-ups at your veterinary clinic. Every 6 months should do the trick.
  • Feed your cat a nutritious and well-balanced diet. Chat to your vet about which nutrients your cat might need more of now.
  • To prevent the spread of this virus to other cats, spaying, and neutering infected cats is very important.
  • Call your veterinarian immediately when you notice changes in your feline’s health and/or behavior.

sick cat with feline hiv lying on window sill

Can FIV Cats Survive?

The good news: Yes, they can! Once you find out that your kitty has FIV, the best thing that you can do is to keep a very close eye on their health. Regular vet check-ups are important.

Also, you can chat with your veterinarian about an immune support diet. FIV diagnosis is not a death sentence. For some cats who only contract FIV later in life, their lifespan can even match that of felines without FIV.

Common Questions About Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

How long can a cat with FIV live?

How contagious is FIV in cats?

What are the symptoms of feline immunodeficiency virus?

How do you treat FIV?

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