Written by: Helen McCallum
Helen is a third year veterinary student at the University of Nottingham. She has an interest in feline medicine, has recently completed a dissertation on FIV in cats, and would like to go into small animal practice when she graduates.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a virus which infects domestic cats worldwide. A cat that is infected is FIV positive (FIV+), and non-infected cats are FIV negative. Unfortunately, FIV positive cats can be overlooked at adoption centres, or are put to sleep unnecessarily because of health concerns or a lack of people looking to take them on. Lina’s is proud that we accept FIV+ cats… but what does that mean for you?
How is the virus spread from cat to cat?
The virus is spread by biting. Generally, FIV is regarded as a virus of fighting cats, with stray and male cats having a greater risk of contracting the virus.
What happens after a cat is infected?
It’s difficult to determine exactly what happens as FIV can cause an array of conditions, which may affect many parts of the body. The majority of the disease course has no symptoms, lasting a long time (often the majority of the cat’s life). Overall, the virus causes immunosuppression, so infected cats are more likely to suffer recurrent health problems, especially later in life.
When the terminal stage is reached clinical disease is seen, which may include dental disease, skin conditions, cancer, neurological disease, renal disease, gastrointestinal disorders, upper respiratory tract and urinary infections. However, as can be seen from this list, these could be experienced by any cat, FIV+ or not! A cat can’t be cured of the virus – it is there in the body for a lifetime.
How do I know a cat is infected?
A SNAP test carried out by a vet will be able to tell you if a cat is infected or not. These SNAP tests often test for Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) as well, which is not to be confused with FIV. Vets will often test stray, male cats they may come across, as these are at higher risk of being positive.
How long do FIV+ cats live for?
No one can predict the lifespan of an FIV+ cat, just in the same way that no one can predict the lifespan of a healthy cat. However, studies have found that FIV infection does not adversely affect lifespan when compared to FIV negative cats. This means FIV cats can live to similar ages to non-infected cats.
So what do I have to do with my FIV+ cat?
Health monitoring is important as FIV+ cats are more likely suffer recurrent health problems. Taking them to the vet at the first sign of anything out of the normal is crucial. A vet may prescribe medication for any conditions the cat is suffering, or carry out any procedures that are required, like dentals in the case of dental disease.
Practicalities of Keeping FIV+ Cats
FIV+ cats should be kept indoors to stop them spreading the virus to outdoor cats through biting. This will also keep them safe from anything which could infect them, such as parasites they could pick up from hunting, or indeed viruses they may contract from other cats. Some say that FIV+ cats should be kept as a single cat or segregated from any other cats in the same household, to prevent the virus spreading. However, as the virus spreads via bites, some say that FIV+ and negative cats can mix in a household as long as they get on and do not fight. However, bear in mind that FIV+ cats should be isolated if an infection is present amongst any other household cats. This is because an infection could pass to the FIV+ cat, causing further complications.
So having an FIV+ cat is not the end of the world- in fact, people often don’t even know they’ve got an FIV+ cat! This disease usually only causes problems towards the end of a cat’s life- when all cats become more likely to get diseases! FIV+ cats make fantastic pets, just like any other cat, so please don’t pass over them!
Lina’s accept FIV+ cats, and do an FIV/FeLV check when we first get an at-risk cat brought in. We will declare whether a cat is FIV+ on enquiry or during your home visit.