Feline HIV, also known as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is part of the same family of viruses (lentiviruses) as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Essentially, FIV is a cat disease that affects a cat's T cells, the white blood cells that are essential in staving off infections. As in the human variety, FIV attacks the cat's immune system, weakening it and leaving the cat prone to a variety of illnesses and infections. First identified in 1986, FIV is found not only in domestic house cats, but is also found in cats in the wild, including tigers, lions, leopards, bobcats, cheetahs, and pumas.
The FIV virus is most often found in blood, saliva, and other fluids, and the most common means of transmission is through bite wounds. The rate of the disease is higher in male cats, most likely because more males than females are left free to roam and fight with other cats. There are some instances where the disease is transmitted sexually, and the disease can be passed from an infected mother cat to its kittens. This article covers identifying and treating FIV; to learn how to keep your cat in generally good health, I highly recommend Ultimate Cat Secrets.
An infected cat can live with FIV for years before displaying any symptoms. This is why it is important to understand and identify cat health problems. The disease progresses through three stages, as follows:
- Stage 1 - When a cat is infected with FIV, the virus immediately spreads into the lymph nodes. During this stage, the T cells begin to be compromised, and while a healthy cat is still able to stave off disease, some cats develop a slight fever, diarrhea, or even anemia. These symptoms are not usually chronic and may go completely undetected.
- Stage 2 - During this stage, the disease is essentially dormant, and a cat will display no symptoms.
- Stage 3 - In humans, this stage is generally recognized as Acquired Immune Deficiency or full-blown AIDS. For cats, stage 3 can be just as devastating. The immune system is no longer able to fend off disease, and the cat is prone to all kinds of infections, including the following:
- Skin diseases, including rashes, abscesses, dry skin, hair loss, and matted fur
- Infections, including infections of the gums, mouth, and teeth
- Gastrointestinal problems, including chronic diarrhea, weight loss
- Behavioral changes, including dementia
- Eye problems, including cataracts, conjunctivitis, glaucoma, and inflammation of the cornea
- Difficulty breathing
A veterinarian can do a cat illness diagnosis of FIV through a blood test that measures the actual antibodies to the disease that are present in the cat's blood. A test is recommended if a cat displays any other symptoms, or when a new cat joins the family. Kittens should also be tested for health issues such as FIV.
There is no cure for FIV, and treatment involves managing the diseases that are caused by the infection. If you know some basic cat care techniques, or where to look to find help, you will be able to spot and treat FIV. An infected cat should be kept indoors, preventing contact with other cats and also keeping it from exposure to disease or other types of injury. There are some vaccines on the market that were developed to help protect an at-risk cat from becoming infected, and some of the same drugs that are used in humans, including AZT and alpha interferon, have been used on cats in studies. Bone marrow transplants can also be effective in raising the level of white blood cells in cats.