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Friday, February 29, 2008

FIV-Feline Immunodeficiency Virus-What is it?

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, also referred to as FIV is a lentivirus (lenti-, Latin for "slow"). It is a slow virus that affects a cat's immune system over a period of years. FIV is spread through a serious, penetrating bite wound, most commonly associated with intact males and mating behavior. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, approximately 1.5 to 3 percent of healthy cats are infected with FIV in the United States.

Most cats with FIV live long, healthy, and relatively normal lives with no symptoms at all. However, infection eventually leads to weakened immune system that hinders the cat's ability to protect itself against other infections. The same bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi that may be found in the everyday environment--where they usually do not affect healthy animals--can cause severe illness in those with weakened immune systems. FIV cannot be spread casually - like in litter boxes, water and food bowls, or when snuggling and playing and it is rarely spread from a mother to her kittens. Secondary infections, due to the weakened immune system, are responsible for many of the diseases associated with FIV.

Although FIV is a lentivirus similar to HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) and causes a disease in cats similar to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) in humans, it is a highly species-specific virus that infects only felines. A number of studies have failed to show any evidence that FIV can infect or cause disease in people.

An infected cat's health may deteriorate progressively or by recurrent illness interspersed with periods of relative health. Sometimes not appearing for years after infection, signs of immunodeficiency can appear anywhere throughout the body:

  • Poor coat condition and persistent fever with a loss of appetite are commonly seen.
  • Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and mouth (stomatitis) and chronic or recurrent infections of the skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract are often present.
  • Persistent diarrhea can also be a problem, as can a variety of eye conditions.
  • Slow but progressive weight loss is common, followed by severe wasting late in the disease process.
  • Various kinds of cancer and blood diseases are much more common in cats infected with FIV, too.
  • In unspayed female cats, abortion of kittens or other reproductive failures have been noted.
  • Some infected cats experience seizures, behavior changes, and other neurological disorders.
  • Infected mother cats transfer FIV antibodies to nursing kittens, so kittens born to infected mothers may receive positive test results for several months after birth. However, few of these kittens actually are or will become infected. To clarify their infection status, kittens younger than six months of age receiving positive results should be retested at 60-day intervals until they are at least six months old.
  • FIV-infected cats should spayed or neutered and confined indoors to prevent spread of FIV infection to other cats in the neighborhood and to reduce their exposure to infectious agents carried by other animals.
  • They should be fed nutritionally complete and balanced diets.
  • Uncooked food, such as raw meat and eggs, and unpasteurized dairy products should not be fed to FIV-infected cats because the risk of food-borne bacterial and parasitic infections is much higher in immunosuppressed cats.
  • Wellness visits for FIV-infected cats should be scheduled with your veterinarian at least every six months. Although a detailed physical examination of all body systems will be performed, your veterinarian will pay special attention to the health of the gums, eyes, skin, and lymph nodes. Your cat's weight will be measured accurately and recorded, because weight loss is often the first sign of deterioration. A complete blood count, serum biochemical analysis, and a urine analysis should be performed annually.
  • Vigilance and close monitoring of the health and behavior of FIV-infected cats is even more important than it is for uninfected cats. Alert your veterinarian to any changes in your cat's health as soon as possible.
Do you have a cat who has FIV? What obstacles have you faced? What do you recommend to someone who is thinking of adopting one or already has one?

American Association of Feline Practitioners, Cornell Feline Health Center and Best Friends Animal Society

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