FIV- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, is a common virus that affects cats. It has the potential to interfere with the cat’s immune system and can therefore be fatal. The virus is in the same class as the HIV virus that affects people but FIV is not transmissible to people at all.
Approximately 30% of cats in our cat population carry FIV. It is transmitted mainly through bite wounds from an infected cat to another non-infected cat. This means that cats that are outdoors, which are more likely to roam and therefore more likely to get into fights with other cats, are more at risk.
Once infected the virus lives in the cat’s blood stream and is carried by the cat for the rest of their life. Some cats that are FIV positive never show any sign of disease. This is why the virus spreads so quickly as cats that are not known to be infected are let roam around and then fight and spread the virus to other cats.
The first symptoms of FIV in a cat are often very non-specific and they include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, diarrhea and swollen lymph nodes. These can progress further to weight loss, sores in around the mouth and other ongoing infections. The cat’s immune system becomes so weak that the condition can become fatal.
There is no immediate treatment for FIV, we can only treat the secondary infections.
Luckily FIV is preventable. There is a vaccination available that we recommend all cats gaining contact to the outdoors receive. If you have an adult cat that has never been vaccinated your vet will do a quick blood test to ensure your cat does not already have the virus. Then it is 3 injections of the vaccination given at 2 week intervals. After this initial course the vaccination should be given yearly.
By Dr Selma Fuijkschot BVSc MACVS