Did you know that cats get AIDS, known in the cat world as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)? Only about 2.5 percent of the cats in the United States contract it. Worldwide, the number is said to be much higher with some countries estimating as many as 25 percent of their cat population being infected.
While that number pales in comparison with feline diabetes, kidney disease, or thyroid disorders, it is a disease that people should know about. Why? Because when you go to shelters and find FIV infected cats, you should know how you, or someone you know, could provide a good home for them. If per chance, one of your free roaming cats contracts the disease, you should be armed with information on how you can continue to provide the kitty a good loving home.
World AIDS Day, was commemorated this past weekend on Dec. 1, and what better way to raise awareness of FIV than to talk about it in connection with human AIDS. It was established by the World Health Organization in 1988. The goal is to remember the many people who have lost their lives to this horrendous disease, while educating people about the many risk factors for contracting it. This year’s theme, one that’s been ongoing since 2011 is “Getting to zero – zero on new infections, zero on discrimination and zero on AIDs related deaths.
If we take that same bent on FIV, zero on new infections is easy to address – just keep your cat inside. But that won’t help the millions of free roaming and feral felines living in the United States and world-wide. The most common way to contract FIV is through biting – mostly unaltered males biting during fights while fighting over a female to mate.
Addressing that problem globally is not so easy
Zero on discrimination for FIV is not likely to happen either. People are afraid of FIV. They don’t want to take on an already known health burden and be saddled with high vet bills. They don’t want to expose other cats in the household to this disease
There’s no question an FIV infected feline should be kept separate from other cats. So if you’re bringing in an FIV feline to join your cat family, they should be kept in a separate room, to prevent the other cats from getting infected. Depending on the size and layout of your home, this can be done, but is not recommended. It’s best that an infected cat be an indoor and only cat.
FIV can be spread from an infected queen giving birth to her kittens. While this is rare it does happen. The kittens can test positive for antibodies up to six months of age. If the little ones test positive at a young age, they need to be re-tested after six months to see if they are truly infected with FIV.
We also can’t zero out death from FIV. While cats can live long, healthy lives with the disease, their immune system is compromised. They probably will not die from FIV, and FIV may not actually reduce their lifespan, but they will eventually contract a life threatening disease.
Cats infected with FIV can live very long, relatively healthy lives, but they are more likely to be affected by disease because of a compromised immune system. These problems can be serious like oral inflammation, ocular inflammations, neurological disorders, and bone marrow failure. Or they can be less serious infections like toxoplasmosis, giardiasis, ringworm, and recurrent upper respiratory viruses.
It would appear until a cure if found or we end cat fights, there’s no hope of attaining ground zero in this arena. The problem of free roaming un-neutered males is an epidemic issue worldwide, and despite a number of relatively successful trap, neuter, return (TNR) programs, there are as many, if not more, cat colonies that have absolutely no formal or informal TNR programs.
One thing we can do about FIV is arm ourselves with information because information is empowering for felines and the people who care about them, care for them, and live with them.
According to a iinformational fact sheet, prepared by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Cornell Feline Health Center, Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine, while FIV cats may appear normal for years, the disease will progress, and their immune deficiency will hinder their ability to fight off other infections. “The same bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi that may be found in the everyday environment–where they usually do not affect healthy animals–can cause severe illness in those with weakened immune systems. These secondary infections are responsible for many of the diseases associated with FIV.”
The disease can go undetected for a number of years. An infected cat can remain relatively healthy with periods of recurrent illnesses. Or the cat’s health may progressively deteriorate. Just as with humans, there’s no one definitive disease course.
FIV is usually diagnosed through blood tests. While there is a vaccine against FIV, it is not considered a core vaccine and is not routinely administered.
Signs of immune deficiency disease can include, but may not be limited to:
- Poor coat condition and persistent fever with a loss of appetite
- Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and mouth (stomatitis) and chronic or recurrent infections of the skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract
- Persistent diarrhea
- A number of eye conditions
- Slow but progressive weight loss, followed by severe weight loss late in the disease process
- Various kinds of cancer and blood diseases
- An increased potential for aborting kittens in unspayed female cats
- Neurological disorders like seizures and behavior changes
There is hope. In 2006, United States Department of Agriculture issued a conditional license for a new treatment aid termed Lymphocyte T-Cell Immunomodulator (LTCI), manufactured and distributed exclusively by T-Cyte Therapeutics, Inc. This treatment is used in cats with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) as well as FIV.
Have you ever had a cat infected with FIV? Do you know someone who has? Have you ever wondered what AIDS in cats was? Please take a few moments to share your comments.