Feline immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is part of the Lentivirus group, as is Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). However it cannot be passed between cats and humans. In the cat it does cause a deterioration in the immune system, thus making them susceptible to other infections.
The most common cause of transmission of the virus is from cat fights, since the virus is found in saliva. The saliva can also cause infection due to grooming, water or food bowl sharing.
Other symptoms also seen in the cat include fever, lethargy, weight loss, anorexia and enlarged lymph nodes.
FIV is diagnosed in the practice after about 6 weeks from infestation by means of a blood test. However this test determines the presence of antibodies and therefore animals vaccinated with the FIV vaccine will always be found to be positive with the virus. We at the Blue Cross test animals before their first vaccination with this vaccine.
How is FIV prevented?
The majority of infections occur through bite wounds sustained when fighting with infected cats. Generally, cats in households with stable social structures where housemates do not fight are at low risk for acquiring FIV infection but exceptions do occur. In multi-cat households, FIV positive cats should ideally be isolated and kept in a separate room or separately from the other cats.
The exposed virus (outside the cat’s body) is easily deactivated by routine hygiene procedures so disinfection and cleaning are important in controlling the spread. It is important to regularly clean and discard litter box contents as the virus can survive in dried biological material, such as stools, for several weeks. Cats should have separate feed and water bowls. Introducing additional cats into a positive household is discouraged because it disturbs the existing social structure and may result in increased aggression between animals.
In the animal hospital environment, all blood donors are tested regularly to ensure a negative status. Hospitalised infected cats are isolated due to their compromised immune status.
It is recommended that any new cat introduced into a household, should be tested prior to introduction. It is recommended that testing be repeated after 60 days as the disease has a long incubation period. Should a new cat test positive, then all the other cats in the household will have to be tested as well.
Although a vaccine has been developed, it has not been totally effective in preventing infection as there are several different strains of the virus. This does not mean one should give up on vaccinating. If your cats happen to be exposed to the strain used in the vaccine, it means they will enjoy protection.
General recommendations for the management of FIV positive cats include confinement indoors, stress reduction, good quality food and regular veterinary visits. There are a few antiviral drugs available, which have been found to help FIV infected cats although the study of their success has been quite limited. It is important to try and keep secondary infections under control and avoid drugs such as corticosteroids that may further compromise the immune system.
Testing positive to FIV is not necessarily a death sentence but it depends on the health of the animal when they are tested. Some cats can survive up to three to four years after testing positive. Keeping the positive cat isolated, providing good nutrition and managing secondary infections is vital in ensuring survival and maintaining health for as long as possible
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