Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a highly contagious retroviral infection. It normally affects the cat’s immune system, making it impossible for it to fight infections. It’s sometimes referred to as the “fighting cat” infection or disease. This is because it mostly spreads from one cat to the next via fights that involve bites and scratches.
It’s true! Cats that have FIV can live long and healthy lives, and great companions. In fact, studies have shown that cats with FIV often live as long as otherwise healthy cats that do not have this virus. Many of these cats age normally and never show signs of FIV-related illness. With proper healthcare, a FIV infected cat and go on with a great life and barely show any signs of illness from FIV.
Caring for a Cat With FIV
Although FIV usually starts slow, once it gets full hold of your cat’s immune system, it becomes difficult for it to handle other infections. In addition to that, the cat becomes susceptible to secondary infections. To ensure that your cat lives longer, therefore, it’s important to understand how this viral disease occurs, its symptoms, management, and preventive care. FIV is an immune deficiency virus and belongs to the same family of viruses that include human immunodeficiency virus or (HIV) causing human AIDS. But not to worry they can only spread it to other cats so take care to keep your cat away from other cats or kittens. A cat with FIV should be kept inside most of the time.
How FIV Infection Occurs
This viral disease affects the immune system’s cells. These are white blood cells, and more specifically the lymphocytes. FIV normally damages the infected cells and in some instances, it causes the death of these cells. The resulting effect is a gradual and steady decline of the feline’s immunity.
Once the infection enters the cat’s body, the infected cells will replicate. However, the symptoms at the onset are usually mild. Therefore, a pet owner may sometimes fail to notice them. This will trigger the cat’s body to produce an immune response. However, this response is not usually powerful enough to kill and prevent the spread of this virus.
Note that the replication process will still continue. Eventually, your pet will start to show strong signs of a serious infection. But by the time you witness these symptoms, it will between 2-5 years from the time the infection started. It is not known if blood-sucking parasites such as fleas can spread infection so it is wise to maintain a regular flea control program for your cat.
What Are the Symptoms of FIV?
During the initial phase of infection, your cat may not show the symptoms. But as the viral disease progresses, your cat’s health will start to deteriorate. Common FIV symptoms include:
- Drastic weight loss
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Loss of appetite
- Eye and gum inflammation
- Skin redness
- Frequent urination
- General behavioral change
- Oral disease and bad breath
- Runny eyes and runny nose
Note: although it’s important to understand these symptoms, the best way to determine if your cat has FIV is via a simple blood test.
What are the stages of FIV?
FIV is a progressive condition with several stages. It consists of the following three main stages:
- The acute/initial stage: it normally features mild symptoms. This includes fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, and rapid weight loss. This stage is usually very short.
- Asymptomatic stage: you will not notice any unusual symptom in your cat for quite a long period. Although in some cats the asymptomatic stage usually lasts for months, in others it can go on for years. This duration depends on several factors including the age of the cat, the virus’ pathogenicity, in addition to pathogenic exposure.
- FAIDs Stage: it’s known as the Feline Acquired Immune-Deficiency Syndrome stage. This is the final stage and the cat is usually prone to secondary infections. FAIDs is a dangerous stage and it’s usually the cause of the feline death.
How Is FIV Transmitted?
FIV virus is present in blood and saliva. It’s mostly transmitted via wounds resulting from deep bites. It should be noted that cats, especially roaming or outdoor cats, tend to engage in frequent territorial fights. These disputes are mostly aggressive and cats end up biting each other.
Besides that, blood transfusion is also another mode of transfusion. Lastly, a pregnant cat can also spread the virus to her kittens. This viral disease doesn’t spread through sneezing, social grooming, and sharing of food.
Some of the conditions that may increase the cat’s risk of contracting this viral infection include:
- Spending more time outdoors.
- Lack of vaccine against feline leukemia.
- Presence of abscess wounds
- A multi-cat home.
Can a Person Catch FIV from a Cat?
It’s not possible for a human being to contract this feline disease. Besides that, this viral infection can’t be transmitted to animals of other species. So, even if a person is bitten by an infected cat, they are safe from contracting this virus.
What is the life expectancy of a cat with FIV?
A lot of pet owners often wonder how long will their FIV-positive cats live. Generally, they usually die at a younger age than their healthy counterparts. To increase the lifespan of your pet, make sure that you significantly reduce the chances of secondary infections. Proper care, as well as therapy, is important if you want your feline friend to live longer. It’s not uncommon that some cats will live for around 2 years after diagnosis. However, it’s also not unheard of that some FIV-positive cats can live up to 10 years.
Caring For Your Cat with FIV
FIV simply weakens the immune system of the cat. As a result, it becomes challenging for it to fight even simple infections. At the moment there is no cure for this condition. However, this doesn’t mean that your cat can’t live and thrive. With the right care, a cat with FIV can live longer. So, what are some of the care mechanisms you should implement?
The Surrounding Environment
This is one of the crucial factors that you need to consider. Generally, the environment plays a crucial role in determining the wellbeing of not only humans but also animals. So, a toxic environment will definitely cause a flare-up of the disease.
For starters, you need to ensure that the air in your house is always fresh. Avoid creating a close and congested environment because it’s full of dust and other pollutants. An open ventilation system promotes the free circulation of air and significantly minimizes a build-up of harsh chemicals.
If you are using air fresheners, ensure that they are organic and environmentally-friendly. Besides that, be cautious when you have friends and visitors around. Having unfamiliar faces around can trigger your pet’s anxiety and in result worsen the symptoms of FIV. Overall, you need to analyze the environment around your cat and eliminate all the triggers that can worsen the symptoms of this disease. Your main goal while managing an FIV-infection is to prevent further spread of infection to other cats and to maintain a good quality of life for the infected cat.
Diet for a cat with FIV
Diet plays a crucial role in determining wellness. It should be noted that cats with FIV have the same taste in food as the others. So, don’t limit its diet. Variety is important in ensuring that your pet gets all the nutrients.
However, every cat is different. So, there might be a slight difference in diet depending on other health complications they have. In addition to that, weight and age are also crucial in determining the diet. To ensure that you feed your cat highly nutritious foods rich in minerals and vitamins, consult with your vet first.
Note: avoid feeding your cat raw meat, dairy, and eggs. These products may contain parasites and bacteria. Therefore, they may cause your cat’s condition to get worse.
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Minimize Changes in Environment and Diet
Constant and extreme changes in diet can stress your cat. In addition to that, don’t be in a habit of changing your cat’s environment. In fact, you should always keep it indoors. This helps to minimize the chances of its contracting infectious agents. Furthermore, this will reduce the risk of exposing the Neighborhood to the virus. Contact your vet promptly if you have any developing concerns that your cat has caught an infection, or if he/she shows any other signs of ill health. Visit your vet for an annual check-up (more often if you can afford it) and keep up to date with all required cat vaccinations. Make sure that you provide regular preventative healthcare, such as anti-parasite treatments, as recommended by your vet.
Although the virus is slow-acting, a cat’s immune system is severely weakened once the disease takes hold. Cats that are infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) may not show any symptoms until years after the initial infection occurred. This can also make the cat susceptible to various secondary infections. Infected cats receiving professional medical care and kept in a happy, stress-free, indoor environment can live relatively comfortable lives for months to years before the disease reaches its chronic stages.
Other Preventive Mechanisms
Make sure that you practice preventive care. So, watch out for secondary infections. It’s also important to frequently schedule veterinary visits for your pet. This should be happening at least twice annually. The veterinary exams usually involve urine analysis, blood count, and general wellness check-up. Lastly, the cat should be neutered to reduce its chances of fighting or roaming around as well as hormonal fluctuations. Because few, if any, cats ever eliminate the infection, the presence of antibodies can indicate that your cat is infected with FIV. This test can be performed by most veterinary clinics using diagnostic laboratories and also is available in kit form for use in veterinary clinics.
FIV’s prevalence heavily depends on location and the population of cats. Generally, the viral condition tends to be prevalent in areas where the cat population is more. In addition to that, the cats must be living in crowded spaces thus the high frequency of catfights.
In case there are more roaming cats in a small location, the prevalence can be more than 15 percent. On the other, the prevalence tends to average between 1 and 5 percent in healthy cats that stay indoors.
Gender also determines the frequency of FIV infections. This condition tends to affect more male cats compared to their female counterparts. Lastly, age is also crucial. While FIV can affect a cat of any age, it’s prevalent in middle-aged cats aged between 5 and 10 years.
Is There a Vaccine for FIV?
Well, there is a vaccine for FIV. However, it is not 100 percent effective. FIV vaccine helps to generate antibodies that can help minimize cell infection. But these antibodies can make it challenging to correctly determine if the cat has the virus. The best way to ensure your cat doesn’t contract this virus is to keep it indoors. Did you know that FIV-infected cats are found all over the globe, but the prevalence of infection varies greatly? In the USA, there is approximately 1.5 to 3 percent of cats are infected with FIV. Some may never even be diagnosed as such. As with HIV, the development of an effective vaccine against FIV has proven extremely difficult because of the very high number and variations of the virus strains. Single strain vaccines, vaccines that only protect against a single virus variant, have already demonstrated a good efficacy against homologous FIV strains. A dual-subtype vaccine for FIV released in 2002 called Fel-O-Vax made it possible to immunize cats against more FIV strains.
The Bottom Line
FIV is a serious condition that still has no cure. But if your cat has this condition, it doesn’t mean they are now useless. They can still be great companions to have in your home. However, you will need to be extra careful if you want them to live longer. Watch out what you feed them and the environment around them. Always keep them indoors and don’t forget that regular veterinary visits are important.
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