Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a viral infection that attacks a cat’s immune system. Because of this, it can cause some health problems, but most cats with this condition can live a relatively normal life.
It can only be transmitted from cat to cat, not to humans or other animals. FIV belongs to the same group as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which is why many people are frightened of it. Because it is sometimes wrongly known as ‘Feline Aids’, it strikes unnecessary terror into the heart of many cat-owners. But the viral strains used in laboratories on experimental cats were very virulent, and FIV strains in cats living normal lives tend to be much more benign, and may never cause disease.
Infected cats carry the virus in blood and saliva and infection is usually passed on when an infected cat bites another.
The saliva of the infected cat can then be injected directly into the blood of the cat it has bitten. But even if this happens, the virus is very weak and not easily passed on. Conversely, a cat which bites an infected cat, is even less likely to be infected, as the virus would not be injected straight into the blood stream, although there is still an element of risk.
Cats who fight, usually tom cats, are most at risk. But if your cat is neutered, it is less likely to fight other cats, and is less likely to be infected. There is a higher incidence of FIV in feral cats as they tend to be unneutered and they compete for food.
Signs that a cat has become infected can vary greatly, so it is not always apparent until a blood test is carried out. A cat may develop raised lymph nodes around six to eight weeks after being infected. A high temperature is another symptom. Sometimes diarrhoea or conjunctivitis may develop, possibly lasting days or even weeks, with the cat then returning to apparent health. Other common signs are gingivitis (gum inflammation), sneezing, snuffling, a discharge from the nose or eyes, or kidney failure. The eyes or brain can be affected in a very small number of cases, resulting in changes in behaviour. If you have any concerns that you cat might have contacted FIV, seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.