Feline Aids: what you need to know

Feline Aids, or its proper name Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV),  is a common cat disease. As with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) it affects the immune system, slowly destroying the cells in the body that fight off infections. Once a cat has picked up the virus, it will have to live with it for the rest of its life.

Feline Aids: how do cats become infected?

Cats pick up Feline Aids or FIV through direct contact with other cats that are already infected. The virus is shed in saliva, so it is mainly transferred though bite wounds. Uncastrated males that roam around freely are most likely to become infected because they often fight.

Feline Aids: the symptoms

There are no visible symptoms when a cat first becomes infected. The symptoms only start showing when the immune system is affected, which can take several years. The symptoms are therefore associated with the secondary disease and not FIV per se.

Often these cats present with long-standing, recurrent conditions such:

  • skin infections
  • mouth ulcers or gum disease
  • urinary tract infections
  • certain types of cancers such as lymphoma

Feline Aids: how to test for it

The only way to know if a cat may have FIV is to test for it. The test can be done at any time, and detects the presence of the virus in the body. Importantly, if a cat has tested negative it does not mean that the cat will stay negative for the rest of its life. It may become infected after the test.

When should my cat be tested?

It is advisable that all cats in the home are tested but more specifically if:

  • a new cat is about to be introduced into the household
  • your cat is free to roam outside
  • your cat has been in a cat fight recently

Is there treatment for FIV?

Cats that test tests positive for FIV can live a long and happy life. Just because they test positive does not mean that they are sick. They can, however, pass the infection to other cats.Treatment for FIV is directed at maintaining health. The treatment has three components:

  1. Clear up any associated infections such as skin and bladder infections
  2. The use of anti-retroviral drugs which may help the body cope with the virus
  3. Reduce stress that may also affect the immune system

Caring for an FIV-positive cat

  • Keep the cat strictly indoors. Roaming increases the chances of contracting diseases from other cats that they may not be able to fight. Also, they are more likely to get into cat fights and develop large abscesses.
  • Keep vaccinations up-to-date, but be careful not to over-vaccinate.
  • Have regular health checks to look for any underlying disease that may affect the cat’s immune system.
  • As soon symptoms are noted, see your vet.
  • An FIV positive cat should preferably not live with other cats in the same household, unless they can be separated from each other.
  • Feed a good quality diet to promote a healthy immune system.
  • Ensure continuous protection from ticks and fleas.
  • Deworm every three months.
  • Reduce stress as much as possible. This can include the use of pheromone collars or even medication.

Prevention

Prevention is far better than cure. Unfortunately, there is no effective vaccine for FIV so it is best to prevent cats from roaming. This can be done by keeping them strictly indoors. Castration is advised as it decreases the urge to roam. Cat-proof fencing can be erected to keep strange cats out, and yours on the property.

 Can humans contract this disease from cats?

No, humans cannot get FIV and nor can dogs, birds or other pets. Only cats (which include wild cats such as lions) can be infected with FIV.

Department of Health COVID-19 updates available at www.sacoronavirus.co.za

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