Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV is a significant disease found worldwide and is a prevalent disease in Singapore, especially in the stray cat population. FIV affects the cells of the immune system by damaging or killing them. Therefore, FIV cats have a compromised immune system and are at higher risk of disease and infection.
How do I detect FIV symptoms in a cat?
There are no specific disease conditions associated with FIV and infected cats can sometimes display no clinical symptoms, especially in the early phase of the disease. Non-specific clinical signs such as fever, lethargy, gingivitis (inflammed gums), lymphadenopathy (swollen lymph nodes or glands) and weight loss are commonly seen in FIV cats. Since FIV-cats are at risk of other infections and diseases, the clinical presentation of the cat can be variable depending on the condition at that point in time.
Preliminary tests can be performed at your local veterinary clinic to check for FIV in pet cats. As with any laboratory test, these tests are not 100% accurate. Factors affecting the test results include age of the patient, vaccination status and more. It is best to discuss with your veterinarian and he/she will evaluate each case individually before giving and informed recommendation.
Can I catch FIV from my cat?
No. FIV behaves very similarly to the Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV). But these 2 viruses are SPECIES SPECIFIC, meaning FIV will only infect cats (species in the Felidae family).
How is FIV transmitted?
Any cat can be infected at any age and the most common form of transmission is via bite wounds. The saliva of infected cats have been found to contain a large amount of virus. However, transmission is also known to occur between FIV-infected queens (mother cats) and their kittens.
I have more then 1 cat at home. Are my other non-infected cat(s) at risk?
The risk of transmission in a multi-cat household through social contact (mutual grooming and sharing of food bowls etc) is low or poor. However, there is still some risk. When the virus is out of the infected cat’s body, it dies within minutes. Hence, the infection is not easily carried on clothing or other objects.
Good parasite control and prevention is recommended since blood-sucking insects such as fleas pose a potential risk for FIV transmission.
Should there be concerns about the small risk of transmission in a multi-cat household, there is the option of rehoming. However, due to the low risk, majority of people will choose otherwise and take certain measures to minimise this risk further. This includes feeding infected and non-infected cats with separate feeding bowls, using disinfectant to wash food bowls and litter trays thoroughly; and in some cases, isolating the infected cat from the others in a dedicated area of the house (such as a room).
What is the long-term outlook for my FIV-infected cat? What can I do to support my FIV-infected cat through this disease?
FIV-infected cats can still live out many years with a good quality of life. Efforts to provide good nutrition are essential in this. It is recommended that cats with FIV receive wellness visits at least once every 6 months with the veterinarian. This will allow the veterinarian to promptly detect changes in their health status such that abnormalities may be addressed earlier. A general blood panel should be performed at least once a year.
Is there a chance my cat can recover from FIV?
No. An infected cat will remain FIV-infected for life.
To date, there is no treatment for FIV disease. The main aim is to address the secondary diseases and provide symptomatic treatment for their clinical conditions at the point in time. For example, if the FIV cat is presented for severe gingivitis such that it is affecting the ability to eat well. The treatment will be focused at managing the gingivitis (antibiotics, pain relief / anti-inflammatories and assist feeding) with the aim of providing comfort such that the cat is able to eat better. Adjunctive therapies such as antiviral drugs and supplements have been used but are known to have limited success.
Should my cat be euthanased?
Generally euthanasia is not necessary upon a FIV diagnosis. FIV infection is not an immediate death sentence. This is more commonly considered during the end-stages of the disease where the cat is displaying poor quality of life. Your veterinarian will be able to advised you accordingly.
How does being infected with FIV impact on my cat’s need for vaccinations?
This is debatable and should be analysed as a case-by-case basis. Since FIV-infected cats have a compromised immune system and are prone to acquiring diseases, vaccinations can pose a risk in progressing the FIV disease or other diseases. On the other hand, vaccinations do offer some degree of protection from common diseases and since FIV-infected cats are at risk of catching diseases, then vaccinations may also be beneficial. Therefore, it is advisable to discuss this in detail with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can then weigh the pros and cons to make a informed decision on whether to recommend the vaccination.
Can I vaccinate my cat against FIV as a prevention?
Vaccination against FIV is available in Singapore but it is not routinely administered or recommended. FIV vaccinations are classified as a non-core vaccination (meaning it is an optional vaccine). Risk facors are usually assessed by the veterinarian before proposing the option to vaccinate. All vaccinations have risk of adverse reactions and FIV vaccinations are known to elicit these side effects. Hence it can be administered but not without risks.
Dr Song H.L. V-Lynn
BVSc, MVS, MRCVs, IVAS certified
Monster Pet Vet