Feline HIV (FIV) is a viral disease impacting cats. It is transmitted through bites from an infected cat, so while it is contagious among felines, isolation is not required to keep other cats safe. FIV is a serious disease that attacks the immune system of the infected cat, so diagnosis and treatment by your veterinarian is important to ensure a long and happy life for your furry friend.
What Are the Symptoms of FIV?
Because FIV impacts an infected cat’s white blood cells and immune system, symptoms don’t always immediately manifest.
There are three phases of FIV:
- The Acute Phase, which happens within the first months of infection
- The Asymptomatic Phase, which can last for a few months to a few years after infection
- The Progressive Stage, or Feline AIDS, during which dangerous secondary infections may occur. These secondary infections are usually the illnesses that cause the most symptoms for infected cats.
Take your cat to the vet if you notice any of the below symptoms, which may indicate FIV:
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Gum and mouth inflammation
- Conjunctivitis (infections around the eyes)
How Is FIV Diagnosed?
FIV is diagnosed through blood tests, however, tests are checking for antibodies that the cat’s immune system generates to combat the virus, not the virus itself. Because of this, a cat may generate a false negative. It is possible that the blood test was performed early after infection and the antigens didn’t have time to generate enough to be detected. Alternatively, a cat in later stages of FIV may also test negative because their immune systems are so compromised that they are no longer able to produce detectable levels of the antibody.
Don’t let those two scenarios worry you. A negative test result is typically accurate. However, if symptoms persist, don’t be surprised if your vet runs the test again to ensure the earlier result was valid.
Is FIV Treatable?
While there is currently no anti-viral treatment for FIV, the secondary infections can be treated with antibiotics. Your vet will have a treatment plan for your cat’s specific stage in the disease, as well as any issues that arise because of it. Your vet may recommend fluid-replacement therapy, diet changes, parasite management, or medications to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
How Do You Prevent Feline HIV?
Historically, it was recommended that infected cats be isolated from other cats, especially within the same household. However, that advice has been modified, because it takes a deep bite from an infected cat to transmit the disease. So, if your cat is infected, but not aggressive, they should be safe sharing space with a non-infected cat. But, if you aren’t sure of the aggressiveness of an infected cat, it is best to keep them separated from others.
Because there is currently no vaccine to prevent the spread of FIV, you should take certain measures to help keep your kitty safe. Keep cats inside to avoid exposure to stray cats who are infected, and get your cat spayed or neutered.
Ultimately, FIV is a serious disease, but it’s not the immediate death sentence it was previously assumed to be. Your FIV+ feline can live a long life with proper care and medical treatment, so follow your vet’s advice if your cat tests positive.
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