Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) affects cells of the immune system (white blood cells) causing a gradual decline in the cat’s immune function. As the immune system is vital in fighting infections, infected cats are at a very high risk of disease and infection.

FIV is a species specific virus so although HIV and FIV are very similar FIV will only infect cats and HIV will only infect humans. People are not at risk of infection from an FIV positive cat.

FIV positive is not the same as Feline AIDS. AIDS is the terminal (final) stage of the disease whereas FIV positive means that your cat has been infected by the FIV virus.

There are a wide range of symptoms which are quite non specific. Once the disease progresses the cat becomes more prone to infections and diseases with common signs like:

  • weight loss
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • inappetance
  • rhinitis (inflammation of nasal tissue causing sneezing and discharge)
  • conjunctivitis
  • lymphadenopathy (enlargement of the lymph nodes)
  • anaemia
  • skin infections 

How is the virus transmitted?

The most common way of a cat becoming infected is from saliva via biting. Cats prone to fighting and suffering abscesses are at a greater risk. Entire males or strays are also high risk as well as cats which mate with an infected cat. There is a low risk from grooming and social interactions but kittens can sometimes become infected either in the womb or via the mother’s milk.
It is not yet known if blood sucking parasites like fleas can transmit the disease so keeping up to date with your flea control is vital.

Diagnosis of FIV

If your veterinary surgeon suspects FIV, a blood test will be performed to test for antibodies to the virus in the blood. Sometimes several blood tests are required to determine the result. Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) is often tested for as well as many of the clinical signs are similar.

Treatment of FIV

There is no cure for FIV once your cat has become infected although your cat may remain otherwise healthy for many years. The treatment focuses on symptomatic and supportive treatment to maintain quality of life and manage the effects of the infection. Prompt treatment of secondary infections is essential.  Feeding a good quality pet food along with regular parasite control and annual vaccinations will help.

Prevention of FIV

There is no vaccine available to protect against the FIV virus. If a cat is diagnosed as positive they should be kept indoors to reduce the spread of the infection to other cats in the area. If they live in a multicat household extra precautions are necessary regarding separate food bowls and food sharing as well as disinfecting litter trays and bowls. No new cats should be introduced as this could encourage fighting. Alternatively re-homing the infected cat to a household with no other cats would be another option.

Useful links:
Feline Leukaemia Virus
www.icatcare.org