Facts on FIV - feline immunodeficiency virus

FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) belongs to the same virus family as HIV.  Fortunately both of these viruses are species specific and will not cross from cat to human. Free roaming, cats especially the neighbourhood bully and his victims are at an increased risk due to bite wounds being the main route of transmission. Although it is not a sexually transmitted disease in cats it is another good reason to sterilise your cat because sterilisation decreases territorial aggression.

FIV Cats feline immunodeficiency virus

  • The virus is shed in the affected cat’s saliva.
  • Rarely will the virus be transmitted from the mother to the kittens
  • Also infects wild cats like lions, leopards and tigers.

Symptoms of FIV infection:

Cats can live a “healthy” life for up to 7 years after contracting the infection. But once symptoms develop the life expectancy is weeks to months.

Signs to look out for:

  • Sudden onset weight loss, decreased appetite and fever.
  • A sore mouth with swollen gums and bad smelling breath
  • Constant battle with respiratory infections (snuffles), diarrhoea or skin infections.
  • Neurological symptoms and disease affecting the eyes are sometimes seen
  • Bone marrow suppression leading to anaemia which causes lethargy, shallow breathing and pale gums. Once anaemia sets in life expectancy is days to weeks.
  • Five times increased risk of certain cancers like lymphoma and leukaemia

Prevention of FIV

There is no cure for FIV. In the last decade a vaccine was developed to give a degree of protection.

How can you protect your kitty:

  • Sterilisation will decrease territorial fighting
  • Report free roaming cats to the authorities especially if they are aggressive
  • Discuss vaccination against FIV with your vet. It is not a routine vaccine and only give 70-80% protection. Best to get your cat tested before vaccination.

Testing for FIV

Most vets do FIV testing at their clinics.

  • Your vet will collect a few drops of blood from your cat
  • If an in-clinic test is used the results will be available within 10 minutes. Some vets make use of external laboratories; these results will take a day or two.
  • Cost of the test kit varies between R300-500 dependant on type used (most kits tests for feline leukaemia virus at the same time).

When to test?

  • If you adopting a cat or taking a stray cat in test them before you expose your other kitties to them.
  •  If your cat is showing any of the symptoms mentioned earlier or gets in to fights often then it is time to get him tested.
  • Before FIV vaccination it is recommended to test.

Responsible pet ownership plays an important role in preventing this heart breaking disease.


Article by: Dr. Adel Ferreira


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