FIV is caused by a Lentivirus and was first recognised in Northern California in 1986. It is similar to HIV that causes AIDS in man; however, FIV does not cause disease in ourselves, only in the cat family. The disease is present mainly in the free-roaming cat population including wild cats such as lions and tigers and amongst feral cat colonies and strays, especially those that are already suffering from other debilitating diseases. Incidence is higher in middle-aged and older cats, and transmission is usually as a result of bite wounds inflicted by FIV infected cats. The incubation period is long possibly up to several years during which the cat may show little or no clinical signs.
At first, the cat appears dull with a raised temperature and swollen lymph glands. After a while, these symptoms may subside a little, but if the infection persists there is deterioration of the cat’s immune defences, and these can give a broad range of variable signs. These may include: Gingivitis, respiratory infections, chronic diarrhoea, vomiting, lethargy, off food, loss of weight, skin conditions, chronic eye disease, frequent abscesses, kidney disease, abnormal behaviour, and tumour formation
An antibody blood test for FIV can be rapidly done by your vet; however, this must be interpreted carefully taking into consideration the clinical signs presented at the time of examination, as not all cats tested FIV positive on the antibody test will go on to develop full blown feline AIDS. Furthermore, false negative and false positive results do occasionally happen. Samples can also be sent for virus isolation tests.
There is little that can be done to treat the FIV virus in cats (unlike HIV in humans), and hence any treatment is aimed mainly at the concurrent diseases associated with FIV mentioned above.
New vaccines are now becoming available to help prevent the transmission of FIV, but are not 100% reliable, so the following points should be born in mind, remembering that most transmission occurs through FIV infected cats biting others:-
Uninfected cats may be kept indoors away from contact with feral or stray cats (difficult in the average pet cat situation).
Infected cats should ideally be kept indoors to prevent the risk of spreading to other cats in the neighbourhood (again may prove difficult). The risk of transmission to other non-infected cats in the household is possible but remote, and separation of cats within a household is often difficult. Euthanasia of known infected FIV positive cats in a household is not considered necessary and is only justified if they are clinically ill or are known to bite other cats.
Contact us for advice relating to FIV and breeding cats and feral and strays.