Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Jun 2, 2011 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Tips & Advice

You’ve gotten the results of a blood test and your veterinarian has just told you that your cat tested positive for FIV. Sometimes they even call it Feline AIDS. It’s very scary sounding and you don’t know what it means for your sweet cat. Rest assured that it doesn’t always mean that something terrible is imminent. If your cat isn’t showing any signs of illness when the test is done, with good care, it’s very likely that you will have a healthy, happy cat for years. Let’s talk about what FIV is, what it does, and how you manage it.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV, is a member of a family of viruses called Retroviruses. One of the things that makes it so scary is that HIV is also in this family and we all have a lot of anxiety when we hear about anything remotely like that. A cousin of FIV is Feline Leukemia Virus. It’s a Retrovirus too. These viruses like to live in the cells of the immune system. FIV can live quietly for years and never start any trouble and our cats look and act absolutely normal. But when it does become active, it causes certain cells in the immune system to “turn off” and causes an immune deficiency syndrome. That means that cats start getting sick from infections that don’t ordinarily bother a cat with a normal ability to fight off disease. We don’t know what triggers one cat to stay healthy and another to activate the virus so it causes trouble, but we think that if we keep them as healthy as possible, their immune system can better keep the virus at bay.

Cats get FIV almost exclusively from the bite of another cat. It isn’t shared by licking or grooming like Feline Leukemia Virus is. Cats that don’t fight don’t spread the disease. That’s probably why we see very little problem with spread within a household. It is unusual to see the virus in more than one cat in multi-cat households as long as cats are kept inside and there is little turnover. If a cat gets exposed to FIV, it takes about 2 months before a test will be positive. So a good rule of thumb is to test a cat when you adopt them into the household and then be sure to test again at least 2 months later. Cats that are positive for FIV should stay inside. They are more likely to fight with stranger cats and spread the disease, as well as being more likely to get sick from things that could be a real problem if your immune system goes on the blink.

If cats are healthy, you’ll want to do whatever you can to keep them that way. Be vigilant in looking for signs of disease. Be aggressive with preventative medicine such a good dental care, parasite prevention, and regular twice a year physical exam and lab work. Then be aggressive about treating problems you find early. If your cat is sick with FIV, your vet will direct treatment specifically to the particular problem that is at hand. Illnesses can be very different from cat to cat. Discuss the treatment and management plan that works the best for you and your household with your vet. There is a vaccine for FIV but it will not help once a cat is exposed and has several concerns that should be discussed with your vet. You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons. It’s not for every cat.

So the upshot is FIV doesn’t have to mean something awful. Working together with your veterinarian, you and your cat can have many healthy, comfortable years ahead of you.

Dr Eliza Sundahl

Dr. Eliza Sundahl completed her veterinary studies at Kansas State University in 1978 after graduating from Boston University. She has spent a great deal of her professional life promoting feline medicine and continues to do so. She has held many positions in The American Association of Feline Practitioners, including 2 years as president. She was involved in establishing board certification in feline medicine through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and worked with that organization for many years to help veterinarians through the certification process.

Dr. Sundahl started at the KC Cat Clinic in 1978 and became owner in 1979. She has been happily working with the wonderful clients and patients at the clinic ever since. She feels like she has the best job in the world. She shares the clinic with Boo and Simon and her home with Babycat, Ferrous, Boo (another one), and Angelo.

Kansas City Cat Clinic
7107 Main St.
Kansas City, MO 64114

Phone: 816-361-4888
Email: kccatclinic@gmail.com

Website: http://www.kccatclinic.com/
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