What is FIV in Cats: Signs, Causes, and Treatments – BarnCoop

What is FIV in cats?

The Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a crucial viral infection of cats that happens all over the world. The Virus is also called Feline Aids.

This Feline Aids was first uncovered during the investigation of a disease outbreak in a past healthy colony of rescue cats in the USA, that had been exhibiting similar signs to people with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) caused bt Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.

Although FIV and HIV are similar in nature, the viruses are species specific, which means that FIV only goes after cats and HIV only affects humans.

So, there if your feline has FIv, there is no risk of infection to you, your family or those people around you. Cats are generally more infected with FIV via bite wounds.

Once infected, a cat will remain infected with the virus forever, and after a period that may last many years, the virus may cause harm to the cat’s immune response and lead to signs of disease.

What is FIV in Cats and how is it spread?

Feline immunodeficiency virus is part of the retrovirus family of viruses in a group scientifically called lentiviruses.

Lentiviruses commonly causes the disease to slowly eat your cat up and so infected puss may stay healthy for several years.

Once a cat status is FIV-positive, the infection is virtually always permanent (cats cannot kill the virus), and the virus will be present in infected cat’s saliva.

The most common means for the virus to be transmitted from one cat to another is through a cat bite, where saliva containing the virus is inoculated under the skin of another cat.

The virus cannot live long in the environment and is often eliminated by common disinfectants.

Rarely, the virus may also be contacted by non-violent connect between cats) e.g. mutual grooming), from a pregnant queen to her kittens; and it can also be spread via blood transfusions.

Currently, it hasn’t been known if blood sucking parasites like fleas can spread infection so it is wise to maintain frequent flea control practices.

How Do We Diagnose FIV?

There are many blood tests for FeLV and FIV, with the most commonly run FIV test carried out in veterinary clinics being an ELISA test; this is automatically combine with a blood test for Feline Leukemia (FeLV).

The FLV ELISA tests for antiviral antibodies, while the FeLV tests for the presence FeLV antigens or FeLV itself.

Why is it crucial to know this? Because kittens that have been exposed to their mother’s blood may test positive to FIV, but may “seroconvert” to FIV-negative many months to years later.

Kittens that test positive should be tested every 6 months for many years to confirm if they have FIV.

what is fiv in cats

How Does Fiv Cause Disease?

FIV affects cells of white blood cells, particularly lymphocytes (immune system). The virus may eliminate or harm the cell it infects, or complicate their normal function.

This may eventually lead to a slow decline in the cat’s immune function.

In the first couple of weeks after infection the virus replicates and may lead to mild signs of disease such as swollen lymph nodes and mild fever. Often a time, these signs are so mild they go unnoticed.

An immune response will develop which does not eliminate the virus, but keeps viral replication at a relatively low level.

After a certain timeframe, in some infected cats viral replication increases again, and it is basically these cats that go on to develop symptom of feline aids.

In many cases, this will typically fall between 2-5 years after the feline was first infected. Increased replication of the virus leads to progressive damage to the immune system.

How Common Is Fiv Infection?

The frequency (prevalence) of FIV infection differs in various cat populations.

It tends to be more common where cats live in more crowded conditions (and so where cat fights are more unavoidable) and tend to be very uncommon where cat populations are lower and where cats hugely stay indoors.

Generally speaking, among healthy cats around 1-5% will be infected with FIV but in high risk cats (for instance in cats with signs of recurrent disease suggesting immunosuppression) the prevalence may be as high as 15-20%.

Outdoor cats have shown that feline aids symptoms are much more common in outdoor cats, and is about twice as common in male cats compared with female cats. Although cats of all ages can be infected, it is most commonly middle-aged cats (5-10 years of age) where infection is diagnosed.

What are the clinical signs of FIV infection?

FIV often leads to diseases via immunosuppression – the typical; immune responses of the cat are compromised, leading to an higher susceptibility to other diseases and infections. There are no particular signs associated with FIV, but in most cases, cats infected will show recurrent bouts of diseases or infections that slowly get worse given time, and infections may not respond to treatment when administered to normal healthy felines.

Some of the most common signs seen in FIV infected cats are:

  • Weight loss
  • Recurrent fever
  • Chronic or recurrent respiratory, ocular and intestinal disease
  • Chronic skin disease
  • Neurological disease (in some cats the virus can affect the brain)
  • Lethargy
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Gingivitis and stomatitis (inflammation of the gums and mouth)

Other disease like neoplasia may happen and other infectious agents may be more problematic in FIV infected cats (like haemoplasma infections, toxoplasmosis, feline infectious peritonitis, etc.).

How Is Fiv Diagnosed?

The tests available for diagnosing FOV infection is many, some of which can be easily carried out in your own vet’s clinic. Several tests involve the collection of blood sample and detecting the presence of antibodies against the virus (typically there is not enough virus in the blood itself to be able to readily detect it).

The cat immune system produces antibodies against FIV during infection, and the test works on the principle that cats cannot destroy the virus so if antibodies are present in the blood then the virus will also be evident. These tests are highly reliable in general, but no test is 100% accurate. If there is any doubt about the validity of the test result, your vet may want to use a different method (such as a different test kit, or sending blood to a laboratory to check for antibodies using a more sophisticated assay such as ‘western blotting’ or to look for virus using a molecular test such as PCR) to perform a follow-up confirmatory test.

It is super vital to remember that kittens born to FIV-infected queens will receive antibodies from their mother through breast milk, and so will test positive early in life though they may not be infected. Cat babies with a positive-tested result should always be retested when they are 5-6 months of age. Plus, in countries where the FIV vaccine is available (check below), cats that have already been vaccinated will also test positive on the routine antibody tests, so alternatives (such as a PCR test) are needed.

Management Options

A lot of FIV infected cats can live happily with the virus for a long period of time, and indeed the virus will not necessarily ever result in clinical disease.

Whether disease develops depends on a lot of factors including the strain of FIV a cat is infected with, the cat’s immune response and the absence or presence of other infectious agents.

In one study, FIV-infected cats are discovered to survive just under 5 years on average (from the time their disease was diagnosed) compared with about 6 years for a similar group of non-infected cats.

The primary aims of managing an FIV-infection are to prevent more infection from spreading to other cats and to maintain a healthy and good quality of life for the infected cats. Some antiviral medications used in human patients with HIV infection have also been shown to help some FIV-infected cats.

Supportive and general treatment should involve:

  • Neutering all cats infected with FIV to beat-down the risk of fighting and spreading infection
  • Providing and maintaining good quality nutrition – using a good commercial food and avoiding eggs, raw meat and unpasteurised dairy products helps reduce the risk of exposure to bacteria and parasites that might cause disease.
  • It is advisable that veterinary health check be done at least twice a year – your vet may recommend certain blood tests on occasion to monitor your cat’s health.
  • Where possible, confine FIV-positive cats indoors, and keep them away from non-infected cat. This helps stop the infection from spreading to other cats, and reduces exposure of the FIV-infected cat to other infectious agents. Alternatively, create a cat-proof enclosure to allow your cat some access to the outdoors without having encounters with other cats.
  • Maintaining good routine preventive healthcare (regular worm and flea control, routine vaccinations etc.)
  • Quick diagnosis and appropriate treatment of any concurrent or secondary diseases. Longer courses of antibiotics may be needed to treat bacterial infections if they are significantly immunosuppressed.

Two forms of antiviral therapy are sometimes used in FIV-infected cats:

  • Interferons are a group of compounds produced naturally that contain anti-viral effects and modify immune responses. A recombinant feline interferon (feline interferon omega) is available in certain countries and it is possible that using this may have some helpful immune and anti-viral modulating effects. It is unlikely to have a profound effect in FIV-infected cats, but your vet may suggest trying this as a treatment.
  • Antiviral drugs like the AZT – some of the human antivirus drugs used to treat HIV re also effective combatants of the FIV and can be safe to use (although careful monitoring of cats is required).
  • These drugs are not ‘cure’ a cat with FIV, but especially if the signs of disease are quite extreme, this may be a form of therapy that your vet will offer. Treatment is expensive though, and many cats appear to do just as well with good supportive therapy.

Having known what is FIV in cats, and means of contacting. Let’s check out other things!

Prevention and Control

A vaccine made against the FIV has been licensed and is available in some selected group of countries. The available data suggests that the vaccine gives a certain value degree of protection and that it might therefore be useful in cats at appreciable risk of being exposed to FIV.

The vaccine should not be expected to provide total protection though, especially as there are many different strains of FIV. Plus, a vaccinated kitty will subsequently test positive on the routinely used antibody tests for FIV infection (see above).

FIV-infected cats should typically be separated from other cats, but this can at times be hard in an household with many cats. As the risk of transmission by social contact such as mutual grooming and sharing of food bowls is low, some owners opt to keep the household as it is. However, it may be helpful to at least feed cats using separate food bowls, as large amounts of virus are present in saliva. Litter trays and food bowls should be disinfected after use to kill the virus.

  • Advice for Breeding Colonies

To cut down the risk of introducing FIV into the colony, breeders should not allow cats to have free access to outdoors, or having contact with cats allowed outdoors.

Annual testing of breeding cats is highly recommended but testing any new cats before introducing them to an FIV-free colony is important. If any cats test positive for FIV, they should be eradicated, the colony isolated, and the rest of cat retested after 3-6 months.

  • Advice for Cat Rescue Centres And Organisations

Generally, routine screening should be carried out in all cats before homing but financial barriers means this might not always happen.

Priority should be given to testing any cats at high risk (cats showing clinical signs of feline aids or aggressive cats).

Even more typical, cats in a rehoming facility should be housed/kept separately and, if not, then kept in the smallest of groups possible.

Neutering every cat before rehoming will help in the reduction of FIV transmission.

  • Advice for Boarding Catteries

Boarding catteries should be constructed in a proper manner and managed so that cats from various households can never come in contact with each other, or use common exercise areas.

In such a situation, there is no risk to other cats, and no reason not to board an FIV-positive cat.

  • Prognosis for infected cats

The prognosis of FIV-positive cats is guarded, but depends on the disease stage.

If FIV is diagnosed on time, there may be a long period during which the kitty is free of clinical signs related to FIV, and not all infected cats go on to create an immunodeficiency syndrome.

Infection is almost reversibly permanent, but a lot of infected cats can be maintained with a good quality of life for extended periods.

We hope our article today has been able to answer your question – What is FIV in cats, Feline aids vaccine and Symptoms of Feline Aids?


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