Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is similar to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which is seen in humans. Like HIV it may or may not proceed to cause clinical illness in the cats it infects. FIV is transmitted primarily via saliva and the most common causes are fighting and biting. FIV infection can predispose cats to numerous problems including infections (fungal, bacterial and parasitic), bone marrow disease, oral disease, cancer and eye problems. A vaccine is now available for kittens or older cats, but your cat needs to be confirmed clear of infection before its use.
We highly recommend vaccinating your cat against FIV, especially if your cat is an outside cat or is prone to 'wandering'. If you do have an outside cat that does come back with wounds or scratches and hasn't been previously vaccinated against FIV it is recommended that you bring your cat in to receive an FIV test, and it is a good idea to keep your cat indoors after it has been fighting until you can get to your vet, so that if on the off chance it has contracted FIV it won't spread the disease further.
Diagnosis usually relies on the detection of antibodies to the virus in the cat’s blood sample. It is rare to get a “false-positive” result, however nursing kittens of FIV-positive mums may test positive for some time. They may not be truly infected with the virus but have antibodies from the mother’s milk.
If your cat has been in a fight, it is wise to wait at least 60 days before testing for FIV in order to minimise the risk of a falsely negative result. While a positive test result usually indicates infection, a negative result could indicate that either the cat is not infected, or it has been exposed but is not yet producing antibodies. A negative result may also occur if the cat has been immuno-suppressed by the virus and cannot produce antibodies, or if the test itself is faulty.
Management of cats with FIV requires some adjustments to their lifestyle. These cats should be kept indoors to minimise spread to other cats AND to decrease exposure to disease. Ideally, infected cats will have a full clinical examination twice a year. Your vet will usually spend time examining the mouth, lymph nodes and eyes, as these are all areas that can be affected by the disease. Your cat will often be weighed as weight loss can be an early warning sign of clinical disease. Some vets will also recommend an annual blood profile, and occasionally urine or faeces tests. Generally, vaccination programs for FIV-infected cats should be similar to those for uninfected cats, vaccine where available.
When a cat is diagnosed with FIV related disease, treatment decisions (including euthanasia) should not be made solely on the grounds of the cat having FIV. Similarly, diseases in cats infected with FIV may not necessarily be a result of that infection, but may have occurred independently. It is a manageable disease and overall, many FIV infected cats, will live long and happy lives regardless of their infection status.