What is FIV? FIV (or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) was first found in 1987. It is similar to the human virus, HIV, which attacks the immune system and is indicated by a drop in white blood cells. FIV strikes about 3 – 5% of the cats at risk of contracting it.
How is it spread? FIV can only be passed from feline to feline. Humans and other animals arenot at risk of infection! The virus is passed by saliva in the form of a deep bite wound and sexual interaction. Unlike Feline Leukemia (FeLV), the FIV virus is rendered inactive the minute it touches the air. This means that sharing food and water bowls as well as normal grooming is not a concern. It is extremely rare for a queen to pass on the virus to her kittens either in utero or through her milk. The FIV mother will pass antibodies against the virus to her kittens in the colostrums (first milk). These antibodies will cause the ELISA test (snap test) to read a positive result. It can take several months for the antibody level to drop in order to not test positive. The time span can be anywhere from 4 – 6 months, and It’s important to test after that time span to make sure of the results. The most accurate test is the Western Blot Test, which is sent to a lab.
3 stages of FIV. After contracting the virus, when the feline is FIV+ (positive) there is a gestation period of 56 – 71 days. This is why it is important to wait the proper amount of time after suspecting that a cat has been exposed.
Stage 1: Initial or acute stage. This takes place 4 – 6 weeks after being exposed. The symptoms are fever, swollen lymph nodes, and susceptibility to skin or intestinal infection.
Stage 2: The latent stage. At this point there are no signs of illness. This stage can last 5 – 7 years. During this stage, the immune system may slowly start to become compromised.
Stage 3: When complications occur. The timeline can vary from 5 – 12 years. The cat can become prone to infections. Death can occur due to secondary infections such as bladder, skin, upper respiratory, and kidney failure. Neurologic problems may also arise. The most common, treatable problem is Toxoplasmosis, which is treated with Clindamycin (Antrirobe RX).
Clinical Signs of the FIV Virus.
*Oral infections in 50%
*Chronic URI (sneezing and nasal discharge) in 30%
*Redness of the eyes, discharge, cloudiness of cornea
*Chronic diarrhea in 10 – 20%
*Skin and ear infections, hair loss, itching, and pustules
*Enlarged lymph nodes in abdomen and other body parts
*Anemia in 33%
Is there a treatment for FIV? It is recommended that your FIV cat receive two wellness exams per year. A full blood panel and urinalysis is recommended annually. If your cat appears to be getting a secondary infection, visit your veterinarian as soon as possible – the quicker the infection is treated, the better. Also, always keep your cat indoors and as stress free as possible. Feeding a diet of high quality protein is also recommended. Holistic medicine has also been a source of success for FIV cats. Antioxidants such as Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and supplements such as vitamins C, E, Zinc, and L-Glutamine have shown to help build the immune system. Massages and acupuncture are also treatments to try. Before giving your cat any traditional or holistic medicine, you need to consult a reputable provider. The book, Feline Aids, A Pet Owner’s Guide by Thomas Hapka has excellent information regarding a combination of holistic and traditional medicine. Antiviral drugs such as AZT, Pmea, and DDC (which are used on humans) have also been given to FIV cats. However, these can cause toxic side effects. AZT has been used for FIV cats with neurologic signs or with stomatitis (oral inflammation) with some benefit. The side effects can be bone marrow issues with the red blood cell production. Periodic testing is a must! Again, please consult your trusted veterinarian for the treatment that best suits your cat. But, no matter what you are told, always feel free to research all methods!
FIV Vaccine. In March 2002, a division of Wyeth, Fort Dodge Animal Health, came out with a FIV vaccine called FEL-O-Vax. This protects FIV – (negative) cats from becoming infected. One drawback is that after receiving the vaccination, the cat will always test positive for the FIV virus. This becomes a problem if your cat gets lost and is tested by a shelter or animal control office that euthanizes FIV cats. This again has to be a decision that you make with your cat’s health care provider based upon the specific needs of your cat.
Should I vaccinate my FIV cat? There is a lot of debate on this issue. Many healthcare providers feel it is necessary to vaccinate FIV cats in order to protect them from disease. Many others feel that it is putting the cat at risk of contracting the disease. There are two types of vaccinations – Adjuvanted and MLV. The Adjuvanted is a killed virus that needs a “helper” to stimulate the natural immune system. This means that booster shots are needed. Adjuvanted are also suspect in VAS (vaccine associated sarcoma). MLV vaccines are live viruses and are considered more effective but carry the risk of infection. There has been debate on both sides. As stated earlier, always consult your trusted healthcare provider in making such decisions.