Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Pet Health

Laura Vissaritis

What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus?

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV is a virus that can leave your cat very unwell. It is a disease that usually affects male cats, particularly those who wonder and are not neutered. FIV is one of many reasons why it is crucial to have your cat desexed and keep them inside at nighttime. Roaming Tom cats are not only more prone to disease, they are more likely to find fertile females and impregnate them, resulting in hundreds of thousands of homeless kittens over their lifetime. 
FIV is a disease in which the body is less able to deal with every day infections as the cat’s immune system is less functional. It is called a retrovirus in which it inserts its DNA into the cat’s white blood celles, and replicates or spreads over time. This means that when a cat is exposed to viral, bacterial and fungal diseases, they are more susceptible to being infected and suffering. Over time, their body may find if more difficult to recover for simple illness, that their immune system would otherwise fight. 
Although the disease can lie dormant in a cat, it does eventually progress to cause a range of symptoms that can be debilitating, and many are similar to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). 

What are some of the symptoms? 

- Tummy upsets including diarrhea and vomiting
- Swollen glands
- Oral disease and inflammation 
- Ongoing fungal and bacterial skin conditions
- Organ failure
- Eye disease including glaucoma, conjunctivitis, inflammation and severe pain 
- Cancer 
- Weight loss and hair loss 
- Breathing issues and discomfort
- Neurological issues affecting movement, behaviour and sleeping patterns.  

How is FIV transmitted?

FIV is almost always transmitted via bites and scratches from an infected cat to another, via saliva.  On occasion it can be carried via birthing. Unlike HIV, transmission seldom occurs via sexual intercourse. The virus is never spread to humans, just as HIV can never be spread to cats.  Sadly, there is no curative measure for FIV. In many cases, cats can live a normal life expectancy, although their health is often compromised over that time, and they are roughly 8 times more likely to have lymphoma type cancers. 
In terms of welfare, FIV is largely symptomatic of poor cat care. Not only is it a concern for an individual cat, it is a sign that there are many of its kind in an area. Areas that have a prevalence of FIV are indicative of an environment where roaming undesexed cats are free to explore their surrounds at nighttime, and infect otherwise healthy cats.  This leads to a strain on not just cat health, but on the finances and care of cat owners. 

What can you do to protect your cat?

IF you love your cat, which I am sure you do, It is imperative that you;
-    Have your cat (at the very least male cats) desexed. 
-    Keep your cat indoors at night
-    Have regular check ups to ensure your cat is healthy 
-    Prevent your cat from socializing with other cats, if you suspect they may have FIV 
-    Talk to your vet if you have any concerns

If you have adopted a cat, talk to the shelter to confirm their overall health. Feline shelters are amazing in the care they provide for cats who come in. They are very happy to chat with you and you can rest assured that the cat you adopt is desexed, healthy and ready for a lifetime of love. 

We all want our pets to be healthy and happy. Usually, this comes down to us and the care we provide. FIV can be prevented easily simply through responsible pet ownership and the common sense to keep an animal in your care, safe and loved. If we all stepped up to protect our cats at nighttime, by keeping them inside, had them desexed, the crisis of homeless cats would alleviate considerably. Let’s keep our cats safe! Let’s keep them off the streets and into our loving homes, where they belong. 

Laura Vissaritis

Please note: Laura's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your veterinarian.

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