FIV: Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
Adapted from FIV Cats – a right to life (and loving homes) by Theresa Coe.
What is FIV?
Through education and public awareness, there is now a lot less prejudice against people living with HIV and AIDS. But did you know that a very similar affliction also affects up to 3% of cats? Known as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV, this is sadly one disease for which there is no cure. Attacking and weakening the body’s immune system, FIV makes the animal susceptible to infections and diseases that don’t affect healthy cats. However, although it can in some cases eventually be fatal, an FIV-positive cat can live for many years without any signs of illness. For this reason, the Hounslow Animal Welfare Society (HAWS) is disappointed that many leading animal welfare charities commonly put down cats and kittens that test positive for the virus.
How can I protect my cat?
The virus is spread (between cats only) primarily through scratching, biting or sexual contact with deep bite wounds in particular being a risk factor. In addition, an infected mother can pass FIV onto her kitten during pregnancy or nursing. But I can set your mind to rest on one point: the virus cannot be passed to any other species or to humans so there is no threat to families even if you are scratched by an infected cat.
In summary, risk factors for FIV include age, gender, illness, and time spent outdoors with those most at risk being older male unneutered cats who spend a lot of time outside, particularly if they are already unwell (so strays are particularly at risk).
FIV positive cats…
While FIV is not that rare, the majority of owners only find out that their cat is affected many years down the line when their immune system starts to fail. Often vets will advise testing to exclude FIV in older cats who aren’t recovering properly from infections, picking up constant bugs or who’ve developed abscesses – perhaps from a cat bite – that won’t heal. Vets can use steroids to boost the immune system of FIV cats that do become ill and treat each infection as it occurs. A good diet will also help. It is possible for an FIV positive cat to live in a multi-cat environment without infecting others in the household, given that the virus is only spread by blood or a great deal of salivary contact, (so there isn’t a danger of passing it on via a shared litter tray). Nonetheless, to be on the safe side, HAWS will only home an FIV cat on its own or in a home alongside other carriers. The need to restrict outdoor access does make these felines ideal ‘flat cats’ if you haven’t got a garden.
What the vets say…
Glasgow-based veterinary researcher Professor Oswald Jarrett is an expert in FIV who supports HAWS’ approach of rehoming affected moggies. He stresses that in his experience ‘a large number of FIV-infected cats live long healthy lives and may never suffer any ill effects’. Why some cats become ill but others survive for their whole lives with the virus is still not known, but the Professor is involved in a research project following up healthy FIV infected pet cats throughout the UK in order to determine what happens to them.
HAWS and FIV
At HAWS we test cats that come into our care for the virus if they’re considered to be ‘high risk’ (such as unneutered male strays). We’re currently seeking loving homes for some very special FIV positive cats. Having come in from the cold, FIV moggies make very loving and grateful pets. Indeed, we have many testimonies from the owners of those we’ve rehomed who wouldn’t part with their feline friend for the world. Please do get in touch if you might be able to foster or adopt an FIV cat.
Fostering is a good way to find out if cat ownership is for you. HAWS can offer support and back up including vet bills etc., until a permanent home is found.