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Cats Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)







Is this the same virus that causes AIDS in people?

No. The feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is also erroneously called the feline AIDS virus and is a member of the lentivirus group. It is likened to the AIDS virus that affects humans because of the similarities in the two diseases which result. Fortunately, most viruses are species specific. This is the case with the human AIDS virus and with FIV. The AIDS virus affects only humans, and the FIV affects only cats.


How do cats get the FIV?

FIV is transmitted primarily by the biting that occurs in cat fights. Other interactions of cats, such as sharing common food and water bowls or grooming each other, have not been shown to be significant in transmission.


How is it diagnosed?

Evidence of exposure to the FIV can be detected by a simple blood test. A positive test means the cat has been exposed to the virus and will likely be infected for the remainder of his or her life. A negative may mean that the cat has not been exposed; however, false negatives occur in two situations:

  • From the time of initial virus inoculation into the cat, it may take up to two years for the test to turn positive. Therefore, for up to two years, the test may be negative even though the virus is present in the cat.

  • When some cats become terminally ill with FIV, the test may again turn negative. This occurs because antibodies (immune proteins) produced against the virus become attached and bound to the large amount of virus present. Since the test detects antibodies which are free in circulation, the test may be falsely negative. This is not the normal occurrence, but it does happen to some cats.

What does a positive test result mean in a kitten?

The vast majority of kittens under 4 months of age who test positive have not been exposed to the virus. Instead, the test is detecting the immunity (antibodies) that were passed from the mother to the kitten. These antibodies may persist until the kitten is about 6 months old. Therefore, the kitten should be retested at about 6 months of age. If it remains positive, the possibility of true infection is much greater. If the kitten tests negative, there is nothing to worry about.


How can a kitten become infected?

If a kitten is bitten by an FIV-infected cat, he or she can develop a true infection. However, the test will usually not turn positive for many months. If a mother cat is infected with the FIV at the time she is pregnant or nursing, she can pass large quantities of the virus to her kittens. This means of transmission may result in a positive test result in just a few weeks.





What type of disease does the FIV cause?

An FIV infected cat will generally go through a prolonged period of viral dormancy before he becomes ill. This incubation period may last as long as 6 years. Thus, we generally do not diagnosis an FIV-sick cat at an early age.


When illness occurs, we usually see a variety of severe chronic illnesses. The most common illness is a severe infection affecting the gums. Abscesses from fight wounds that should heal within a week or two may remain active for several months. Respiratory infections may linger for weeks. The cat may lose weight and go through periods of not eating well; the hair coat may become unkempt. The cat may have episodes of treatment-resistant diarrhea. Ultimately, widespread organ failure occurs, and the cat dies.


Is there a treatment for it?

There is no treatment that will rid the cat of the FIV. Sometimes, the disease state can be treated and the cat experiences a period of recovery and relatively good health. However, the virus will still be in the cat and may become active at a later date. Therefore, the long term prognosis is not good.


What should I do with a cat who is FIV positive but is not ill?

If you have a cat who tests FIV positive but is not ill, euthanasia is not necessary. As long as the cat does not fight with your other cats or with those of your neighbors, transmission is not likely to occur. However, if the cat is prone to fight or if another cat instigates fights with the cat with the FIV, transmission is likely. In fairness to your neighbors and their cats, it is strongly recommended to restrict an FIV-positive cat to your house. Guardians of infected cats must be responsible so that the likelihood of transmission to someone else's cat is minimized.


Is there a vaccine for FIV?

A vaccine to help protect against FIV infection is now available. However, not all vaccinated cats will be protected against all forms of FIV by the vaccine, so preventing exposure will remain important, even for vaccinated pets. In addition, vaccination will have an impact on future FIV test results, so cats should be tested for the FIV virus before vaccination. It is important that you discuss the advantages and disadvantages of vaccination with your veterinarian to help you decide whether the FIV vaccine should be administered to your cat.