Feline AIDS

Can My Cat Catch AIDS? We are slightly alarmed to have to answer – YES – cats on the Monaro and in the Snowies are at high risk!

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is the virus that can lead to AIDS in our treasured tabbies.  Just as HIV virus in humans can lead to this debilitating and often fatal immune system failure in us, so too can it be dangerous and commonly fatal to our cats.  FIV is NOT the same virus as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes Human AIDs. Even though FIV is related to HIV no human has ever been reported to be infected with FIV.

Studies of cats Australia wide have suggested that between 14 and 29% of Australian cats are infected with FIV. That is a large percentage of cats to be carrying a potentially deadly disease. However tests done in our clinics suggested that, in this district, the number is more like 25%! 

The virus is transmitted from cat to cat mostly via bite wounds. So cats that are often in fights or being picked on by neighbourhood cats are at high risk. Feral cats are commonly carriers. Our testing also showed that even some cats that weren’t known or regular fighters had picked up the disease. It can also be transmitted from a mother to her kitten either through her milk or via the placenta.

What symptoms should I look for?

Unfortunately symptoms of cat that may have FIV are not obvious, that’s why we recommend testing. Once a cat becomes infected with FIV there is an unknown length of time before they will start to become unwell (this varies from case to case). Studies suggest the average length of time between becoming infected and the start of symptoms related to FIV is around 7 years but may be up to 10 years, or as little as 1 year.

Cats infected will show some initial symptoms (these may not show signs of being infected with FIV).

  • Fever
  • Diarrhoea
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

Generally these symptoms will resolve and the cat will appear healthy for a period of time before starting to show other symptoms of the disease as it progresses.

Eventually however, an infected cat will succumb to other diseases as a result of their depleted immune system. Other symptoms which may occur are;

  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Weight loss
  • Inflamed gums and dental issues
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Depression
  • Infections of organ systems related to the immune suppression caused by the virus (respiratory, urinary tract, gastrointestinal, etc)
  • Anaemia (low numbers of red blood cells)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Kidney infections or failure
  • Behavioural abnormalities (dementia, hiding, roaming, rage, inappropriate urination and defaecation)

Over time the cats immune system becomes too weak to fight off other infections or disease due to the diseases progression.

How do I know if my cat has FIV?

The only way to diagnose FIV is with a blood test. This test may need to be repeated as accurate results are acquired when a test is run 60 days from when the cat is first infected. We offer FIV screening in both of our clinics.

It is also worth mentioning kittens can be tested for FIV however it is best to repeat the test once they have reached 6 months of age. This is because they can received antibodies in their mother milk which can cause a false test result. Alternatively, if it is safe to do so, postponing testing until 6 months is another option. This should be discussed with your veterinarian.

Is there a treatment for FIV?

Unfortunately there has been no successful treatment found for FIV infection.

The best thing we can do is be alert for early signs and symptoms so we can better manage the infected cat. An FIV positive cat will find it hard to fight off infections due to their weakened immune system. It is in their best interest to be treated immediately. We also recommended infected cats receive more regular check ups with their veterinarian to ensure we are managing their illness the best possible way.

How do I protect my cat from FIV?

Fortunately, there is a vaccine against FIV. 

FIV positive cats should be kept indoors both to limit their exposure to infections and to prevent spread of the infection to other cats. Any other cats in the household, if tested negative for FIV, can be vaccinated to try and prevent them from also becoming infected.

If your cats do not have FIV then there are a number of ways in which we can try to prevent infection;

  • Keeping your cat indoors and limiting exposure to other cats
  • If you are introducing a new cat to your house then it is best to test the new cat for FIV first.
  • If your cat has best tested and is negative for FIV then he or she can be vaccinated against the disease.

Our Vaccine Recommendations

We have been forced to think hard about our recommendations for prevention of this deadly disease. While we believe vaccination is fantastic medicine (preventing disease-what could be better!), we also believe that minimising its use to high risk situations is important medical practice. FIV can certainly cause severe disease, and some cats are at high risk of catching it. 

Cats that are KNOWN FIGHTERS (with other cats) SHOULD be vaccinated.
INDOOR ONLY cats DO NOT need to be vaccinated (unless they live with a known FIV positive cat OR are known to escape)
OUTDOOR CATS (cats that spend any time outdoors) SHOULD be vaccinated

The Vaccination Process

The FIV vaccination consists of an initial course of 3 vaccinations 2-4wks apart, then a yearly booster. The vaccination has been shown to protect 82% of cats vaccinated.

Cats to be vaccinated must first be tested for FIV and produce a negative result. Also cats to be vaccinated against FIV must be microchipped. 

What should I do if my cat is diagnosed with FIV?

With the correct care many infected cats continue to live fulfilling lives. We recommend 6 monthly checks for your cat that includes a physical examination. At the time your veterinarian should also conduct blood and urine tests regularly to pick up early changes associated with disease or illness. If any changes are detected your veterinarian will adopt an aggressive approach for diagnosis and treatment.

It is best to communicate with your vet and create a care plan to best suit you and your cats needs.

Responsible ownership of an FIV infected cat

FIV positive cats should be kept indoors both to limit their exposure to infections as well as to prevent spread of FIV to other cats. Any other cats in the household, if tested negative for FIV need to be vaccinated to give them the best chance of protection.

So, if you think your cat might be at risk of this deadly disease, we encourage you to organise a visit to the clinic to speak to one of our vets about what needs to be done. We have put some special discounted prices in place to encourage everyone to protect any at risk cats (and thereby protecting all cats in our region) by vaccinating against FIV and Feline AIDS. 


FAQ

Can FIV be deadly?
FIV itself will not kill your cat. But the development of AIDS can debilitate a cat’s immune system and allow other infections to make the cat very sick or even kill them.

Is my cat at risk?
Read the whole article! But in short:
Indoors only – UNLIKELY
Outdoors at all – PROBABLY

Can humans catch AIDS from Cats?
Absolutely NOT!!!

Does my cat’s routine yearly vaccination cover FIV?
No, it does not.

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