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Cats who are infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) may not show symptoms until years after the initial infection occurred. Although the virus is slow-acting, a cat’s immune system is severely weakened once the disease takes hold. This makes the cat susceptible to various secondary infections. Infected cats who receive supportive medical care and are kept in a stress-free, indoor environment can live relatively comfortable lives for years before the disease reaches its chronic stages.  

 

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) causes immunosuppression and can hinder a cat’s ability to protect itself against infections.

 

Many people confuse FIV with feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Although these diseases are in the same retrovirus family and cause many similar secondary conditions FeLV and FIV are different diseases.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

How can I keep my cat from becoming infected? 
The only sure way to protect cats is to prevent their exposure to the virus. Cat bites are the major way infection is transmitted, so keeping cats indoors-and away from potentially infected cats that might bite them-markedly reduces their likelihood of contracting FIV infection. For the safety of the resident cats, only infection-free cats should be adopted into a household with uninfected cats.

Vaccines to help protect against FIV infection are now available. However, not all vaccinated cats will be protected by the vaccine, so preventing exposure will remain important, even for vaccinated pets. In addition, vaccination may have an impact on future FIV test results. It is important that you discuss the advantages and disadvantages of vaccination with your veterinarian to help you decide whether FIV vaccines should be administered to your cat.

I just discovered that one of my cats has FIV, yet I have other cats as well. What do I do now? 
Unfortunately, many FIV-infected cats are not diagnosed until after they have lived for years with other cats. In such cases, all the other cats in the household should be tested, as well. Ideally, all infected cats should be separated from the noninfected ones to eliminate the potential for FIV transmission. If this is not possible-and if fighting or rough play is not taking place-the risk to the non-infected cats appears to be low.

How should FIV-infected cats be managed?

  • FIV-infected cats should be 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.
  • FIV-infected cats should be spayed or neutered.
  • 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.
  • There is no evidence from controlled scientific studies to show that immunomodulator, alternative, or antiviral medications have any positive benefits on the health or longevity of healthy FIV-infected cats. However, some antiviral therapies have been shown to benefit some FIV-infected cats with seizures or stomatitis.

How long can I expect my FIV-infected cat to live? 
It is impossible to accurately predict the life expectancy of a cat infected with FIV. With appropriate care and under ideal conditions, many infected cats will remain in apparent good health for many months or years. If your cat has already had one or more severe illnesses as a result of FIV infection, or if persistent fever and weight loss are present, a much shorter survival time can be expected.

My FIV-infected cat died recently after a long illness. How should I clean my home before bringing in a new cat?
Feline immunodeficiency virus will not survive outside the cat for more than a few hours in most environments. However, FIV-infected cats are frequently infected with other infectious agents that may pose some threat to a newcomer. Thoroughly clean and disinfect or replace food and water dishes, bedding, litter pans, and toys. A dilute solution of household bleach (four ounces of bleach in 1 gallon of water) makes an excellent disinfectant. Vacuum carpets and mop floors with an appropriate cleanser. Any new cats or kittens should be properly vaccinated against other infectious agents before entering the household.

Can I become infected 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.

Why should I have my cat tested?

Early detection will help you maintain the health of your own cat and also allow you to prevent spreading infection to other cats.

Under what circumstances should FIV testing be performed?

  • If your cat has never been tested.
  • If your cat is sick, even if it tested free of infection in the past but subsequent exposure can't be ruled out.
  • When cats are newly adopted, whether or not they will be entering a household with other cats.
  • If your cat has recently been exposed to an infected cat.
  • If your cat is exposed to cats that may be infected (for example, if your cat goes outdoors unsupervised or lives with other cats that might be infected). Your veterinarian may suggest testing periodically (yearly) as long as your cat is exposed to potentially infected cats.
  • If you're considering vaccinating with an FIV vaccine.

Information provided by American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Cornell Feline Health Center, Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine