FIV – feline immunodeficiency virus, or feline AIDS - is caused by a virus that affects cats only, and is commonly thought of as AIDS in cats. It’s spread from cat to cat, mostly through fighting, which is why so many stray or street cats are FIV positive. When an infected cats bites another one, the disease can be transferred.
New studies have shown that cats that are in very close contact with each other - like those who groom each other - may also be at risk of contracting the disease through each other’s saliva..
FIV doesn’t affect humans or dogs.
What effect will feline AIDS have on my cat?
An FIV positive cat may not present with symptoms immediately. Over time however, the virus will weaken her immune system, making her more susceptible to illness and infections.
Her weakened immune system will make it difficult for her body to fight infections, and eventually she may succumb to even a common illness. And, because of her weaker immune system, it can be difficult and complicated to treat illnesses in your cat - even run-of-the-mill infections.
If my cat has FIV, why doesn’t she seem sick?
As mentioned earlier, this is to be expected, and is part of the disease process. Your furbaby may go months or even years carrying the virus in her body without showing symptoms. However, it’s critical to know that even when she’s symptom-free, she can still transmit the virus to other cats. It’s also important for you to know your pet’s FIV status, so that you can seek prompt and correct treatment as soon as she becomes unwell.
How is feline AIDS diagnosed?
Via a quick, virtually painless blood test that your vet will perform in their rooms.
What should I do if my cat is diagnosed with FIV?
If your kitty is diagnosed with feline AIDS, it’s crucial to keep her as healthy as possible to put as little strain as possible on her immune system. Do this by:
- Feeding her the best possible food - ideally premium cat food. A healthy and balanced diet is essential to good health.
- Keep her up to date on her vaccinations.
- Treat all concurrent diseases properly and quickly.
- Spay or neuter your kitty to help prevent roaming and fighting with other cats.
- Chat to your vet about supplements that can help boost her immune system.
- Deworm her regularly.
- Tick and flea control is very important. Parasites can be transmitted to cats via fleas, and your kitty will be especially vulnerable to these parasites if her immune system isn’t performing at its peak. Parasites like mycoplasma haemofelis can lead to feline infectious anaemia in your cat.
- Keep her indoors. This will help protect her from picking up diseases.
- Ensure she has regular health checks at your vet.
- Avoid raw food diets, especially at times when your kitty isn’t fully healthy. Raw foods carry high levels of bacteria that are safe and even beneficial in a healthy animal, but which can cause disease in an animal with a compromised immune system. It’s particularly important to cook all chicken or egg that your cat consumes, to protect against salmonella and E. coli.
I have a multi-cat household and one of my cats has FIV. Are my other cats at risk?
Yes, particularly if your cats fight with each other, or like to groom each other. If all your kitties live in harmony and don’t mutually groom, chances are they are safe from picking up the virus. But it’s a good idea to get each cat in the household tested for the virus so you know the status of all your animals.
How can I help prevent FIV in my cat?
This is a very difficult disease to prevent, because in many suburbs, homes are on top of each other, which means cats are, too. They tend to be territorial, and with so many cats in close proximity, turf wars are unavoidable. Unfortunately there is no vaccine available in South Africa to protect your cats against FIV. The best advice is to spay or neuter your cat to prevent roaming and reduce the risk of fighting.
What about FELV?
FELV - or feline leukemia virus - is another virus that has a similar effect on your cat’s immune system as FIV. It is not the same as FIV but similar in certain ways, and also very common. Like feline AIDS, it affects your cat’s immune system and is also transmitted from cat to cat, usually during fighting. And yes - it’s possible for your kitty to contract both viruses.
Read more about FELV here.
I hope you and your furbaby won’t ever have to face the reality of FIV, but armed with the right information, treatment plan and lifestyle adjustments, it doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your furbaby. In fact, with the right care, your baby can still live a long and happy life.
Here’s holding thumbs - and paws - for a safe and healthy life for your furbaby.
Disclaimer: Always consult your vet for professional advice. The Zuki.co.za blog is provided as an educational tool and should not be used to diagnose illness or treat an animal.