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Posted on 12-01-2017

You may have heard of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), but you may still have many questions about it: What are the signs and symptoms? Is my cat at risk? Can I catch FIV from my cat? Does this mean that my cat has AIDS?

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV, is a virus specific to the cat family. FIV causes a weakened immune system in infected cats, leaving them more susceptible to contracting secondary illnesses. If your cat spends time outdoors, it is at risk of contracting FIV, which is often transmitted through the bite and saliva of another infected cat. If your cat appears to have a bite or wound of unknown origin, especially if it is an outdoor cat, blood testing for FIV is a smart idea. If you have an FIV positive cat in a household with other cats, they may or may not contract the illness. Normal social interactions between cats in a household are unlikely to transmit FIV, although as a precaution your FIV positive cat should have its own feeding bowl, not to be shared with other cats in the household who do not test positive for the virus.

Kittens may contract FIV from the mother cat during pregnancy, or through the milk while nursing. If a kitten is tests positive at four months of age or earlier, it is a good idea to repeat testing at six months or older, as younger kittens can still retain some of the maternal antibodies for FIV and falsely appear positive.  At six months of age, these antibodies will have disappeared, resulting in more accurate test results. Not all kittens born to an FIV positive mother cat will get the disease. Once a cat contracts FIV, it will carry the infection throughout its life, though it may not show signs of illness for months or even years.

Since FIV suppresses the immune system, most disease symptoms that a cat may show are a result of secondary infections and illnesses that an otherwise healthy cat would normally be able to fight and heal from. Common symptoms of FIV are gingivitis/stomatitis (inflammation of the gums and mouth), poor appetite and weight loss, fevers (especially ones of unknown origin), chronic conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membranes around the eyes), vomiting, diarrhea, and swollen lymph glands. Since all of these symptoms are common to many other illnesses, it is important to note if your cat has any recurring or persistent symptoms and have them tested for FIV, even if they may not have an outdoor/at-risk lifestyle. Bacterial infections as a result of FIV can often be treated with antibiotics, but relief may be temporary as secondary infections can happen frequently due to the weakened immune system.

If your cat is FIV positive, it is important to make sure that its lifestyle is as healthy as possible, including twice yearly physical exams, and tests for blood and urine to monitor any health changes that could indicate infections or illness.  A strictly indoor lifestyle will minimize the chances that your cat may be exposed to illnesses from outdoor cats, or transmit FIV to them. Even if your cat tests positive for FIV, it may have several years of healthy, happy living before any symptoms of illness occur. If you think your cat may be at risk, it is wise to schedule an exam with a veterinarian to discuss any concerns and test for FIV.

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