FIV in Cats: Is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Contagious, Meaning, Symptoms, Vaccine

FIV in Cats
FIV in Cats

FIV in cats meaning “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus”. It is a virus that affects feline’s immune system, weakening and leaving it vulnerable to other forms of infection.  It is quite similar to humans HIV but still with little differences; thus, many people have referred it as kitty aids which bring a lot of confusion and misunderstanding on the mode of transmission and its effects on humans.

First recognized in 1980’s FIV belongs to a retrovirus family of viruses and can found to be all around the world.  And because of its ties with retrovirus family and similar secondary conditions with feline leukemia virus (FELV) people tend to mistake it with FELV, but the two are very different.

FIV in Cats
FIV in Cats

The positive thing about this virus is that it’s slow acting, meaning that it takes some time before it reaches its disease chronic stages, it’s not easily spread between felines and also it’s not a common disease in cats.

Causes and Mode of FIV Transmission

The virus is caused by “lentivirus” a retrovirus present in the infected cat’s saliva and blood, and the only species affected are cats, meaning it can only be passed from cat to cat. Because of the virus is fragile state outside the body it’s relatively hard to transmit, hence, the level of dosage needed to infect another cat is high.

The popular mode of FIV transmission is a severe bite from an infected feline; the virus in the saliva is injected directly into the bitten cat’s blood stream. However, when an FIV negative cat bites an infected host, it’s less likely to contract the virus, but it still can get infected easily if its gums have wounds.

Occasionally in rare cases, transmission can also be from an infected mother feline to its kittens. The infection incidence usually occurs during the cat’s birth, or sometimes when the kittens consume their infected mother’s milk. Sexual transmission is uncommon

This shows that cats that get infected with FIV are the ones that fight a lot, hence, the reason why the virus is more common in outdoorsy and wild cats rather in indoor and household cats respective. Particularly the male cats that are at more risk of contracting FIV; male cats like to move around more “while searching for female cats to mate” and fight a lot to mark their territory, to win a queen over or when fighting for food, thus increasing the potential of infection.

How FIV in Cats Affects the System

The virus infects the white blood cells, mainly lymphocytes damaging or killing them, thus affecting the immune system factions and as you know when the immune system is destabilized the body will not be able to defend its self when infected by diseases.

There are three stages, Primary Stage, Latent Stage and Terminal Stage. The primary stage occurs 4 to 6 weeks after infection. At this juncture FIV can cause swollen lymph nodes and mild fever; fortunately, they usually resolve spontaneously and is rarely severe.  During the latent stage the cats have no signs of sickness; however, the immune system is slowly being destroyed by FIV. The final stage occurs from 7 to 12 years after infection and is the chronic stage of the disease where any or even less severe diseases can cause great health problems for your cats. During the last stage there is a high number of the replicated virus, and thus, the cat’s immune system takes a lot of blows, making it fragile and cat’s body vulnerable.

Facts about FIV

Because there are a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about FIV in cats; due to latest FIV research, people confusion FIV with HIV and different information in FIV-related articles.

It has resulted in questions like; is my family at risk of getting FIV? Are there any FIV vaccines, does it affect common breeds, Is it contagious to other animals or just cats, etc.

There are some that have already been mentioned in this article, but still, the informative facts given below can prove to be important for you in understanding FIV.

FIV in Cats:

  • Can only be transmitted from cat to cat, meaning that humans or other animals can’t get infected by the virus because it’s a feline-specific disease, so your family and other animal pets are safe.
  • There are no common breeds that are affected by the virus; your cat is at a higher risk to get FIV if it fights a lot with other cats.
  • Life Expectancy- FIV is a slow virus and affects the immune system slowly over a period with very minimal or no symptoms at all. Thus testing is necessary because your cat may be FIV positive and still has no clinical signs over many years.
  • So your cat can leave a normal, happy, healthy life for many years if managed well. FIV is not fatal to cats as AIDS is to humans.
  • Is it contagious? To humans or animals? FIV can only be transmitted from blood or saliva of an infected cat. Fortunately, it’s not quickly spread. FIV is not contagious to humans or none- felines.
  • Treatment- FIV has no cure.
  • The FIV-infected cats all around the world range from 2.5-4.5 % with the males having at least twice the chance of infection than cats. For the USA it’s 1.5-3 % which shows that prevention and management of FIV in the country are improving.
  • FIV has a vaccine. Read all about FIV Vaccination after Treatment and Management subtopic.

FIV in Cats Symptoms

Because the virus is slow-acting, there are no symptoms earlier on during infection. The signs start showing when the immune system gets severely damaged, and the symptoms start appearing because of the various secondary infections.

FIV symptoms are characterized not only by signs but also the disease that affects the cat’s body due to immune system deficiency; hence, the inability of the immune system from fighting other disease causing bacteria, virus, or protozoa and eventually the cat succumbs to this other diseases.

Early FIV signs include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • A poor hair coat
  • Loss of appetite

The good thing is that felines often recover from this phase quickly.

Late signs when secondary infections have takeover include:

  • Lethargy
  • Anemia- happens to nearly 1/3 of affected cats
  • Behavioral changes
  • Skin problems
  • Frequent urination
  • Pneumonia
  • Neurological problems
  • Cancers
  • Optical problems- Discharges, cloudiness or redness of the eyes may be seen.
  • Gingivitis and stomatitis- affects almost ½ of cats with FIV
  • Weight loss- Due to diarrhea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea- affects 10-20% of cats with FIV
  • Vomiting

When it reaches this stage, the cats usually die within a year.

Diagnosis of FIV in Cats

Similarly to HIV/AIDS, it takes some time for the virus to show after initial infection i.e. 8 to 12 weeks for the levels of antibodies to be detected after FIV exposure. Thus, the vet tests twice for the virus with a 60-day interval.

The AAFP “American Association of Feline Practitioners” recommends that for all cats the FIV status is to been known and documented so as to be able to control and reduce the spread of the virus. A blood test method is used detecting antibodies of the virus within the cat’s body; most vets use of ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) test which takes a few minutes and is more accurate.

The vet will take into account your cat’s medical history (The feline’s parents), the cat’s lifestyle and incidence that are brought about by FIV. If the cats turn out to be positive, another blood sample is sent for an outside office retest so to confirm the in-office tests,” Western Blot Test.”

The test is done when the cats are over six months of age because if for instance, the kitten was from an infected queen, it may have received maternal antibodies thus giving falls results that the kitten is FIV positive which may not be true. The maternal antibodies can last for four months in the cat’s body.

Treatment and Management of FIV in Cats

Unfortunately, there is no known FIV treatment available.

Although, the parts about treatment aren’t possible management is. When your cat has been diagnosed with being FIV positive, there are steps and administration tips you can use to ensure they are healthy and at minimal risks.

Management focuses on easing secondary effects of the virus after symptoms set in or extending the asymptomatic period. Here are the best-known ways to manage FIV:

Nutritional Support

FIV positive cats can benefit from increased vitamin levels, protein and calorie dense diet. Nutritional support will help with the weight loss. Poor appetite and keeps your cat healthy. Try feeding it tuna, chicken, eggs or beef; there are some diets designed for cats like this. Your vet will help you find a nutritionally balanced diet.

Medication for Secondary Infections

There is a prompt treatment of secondary diseases or medication for secondary infections e.g. antibiotics for the bacterial infection and anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • The cat should also be taken to the vet twice a year for a checkup. The vet does tests to see the extent FIV spread and the overall cat’s health.

Immune Enhancing Drugs

This medication helps boost the cat’s immune system AZT (Retrovir) and PMEA. These drugs are the same one used by humans for HIV and Aids and have proven to be very effective in keeping people healthy and active. However, there are some adverse effects of the drugs in cats like toxic complications that include bone marrow or liver damage and anemia.

Vaccination and Deworming.

Regular parasite control “worm and flea control” and maintain a routine vaccination gives your cat a good fighting chance.

Electrolyte and Fluid replacement therapy

It is very rare and not a common treatment for FIV in cats. However, there have been some trials and studies about it.

About 20% of cats die 4-6 years after infection, but over 50% remain with no clinical signs of diseases. It’s also important you keep your cat indoors and neutering it to avoid from spreading infection by fighting.

How to Prevent FIV in Cats?

  • First is to keep your cat indoors most of the time and also keep them away from cat shelters where large cases of FIV have been reported.
  • Take your cat to vet regularly for a check-up which should be as per the vet’s instruction.
  • Look for any behavioral change and signs of FIV.
  • Neutered and spayed are safer of having FIV.
  • Vaccination

The thing about vaccination is that it’s not that efficient and even if manufacturers have said it to be 80% accurate some studies claim that it is 50% accurate in preventing FIV in cats.

Another issue is that you can’t distinguish between a cat that been infected with FIV and one that has been vaccinated for FIV. No test can differentiate between the two meaning that your cat might have FIV even after being vaccinated and your vet might never know which is which even after tests.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for your article on FIV, I live in Richmond Virginia and have 4 community cats behind my house, I just found out today that one of the male cats had FIV. Your article helped me understand the disease better, and how it’s spread.

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