By SANDY BARNOSKY
The Pet Lady
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a cat-only disease that cannot be spread to any other species including humans. It was first discovered in domestic cats in the mid 1980s and, according to Cornell Feline Health Center, about 1.5 to 3 percent of domestic cats in the United States are suspected of being infected with FIV. Outdoor, un-neutered males are at a particularly high risk of the disease.
At first, veterinarians recommended euthanasia for any cat testing positive, but fortunately, weâ€™ve learned much more about the disease and now know that even with a positive diagnosis, cats can live perfectly normal lives, as long as they are not exposed to diseases that their immune system cannot handle.
FIV is a slow virus that primarily affects the immune system over a period of years and results in lowered resistance to infections of the skin, respiratory system, urinary tract, eyes, ears and mouth. Because of their weakened immunity, many FIV-positive cats ultimately succumb to secondary viral or bacterial infections that would be relatively harmless to a normal cat. Another virus, Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) also attacks the immune system and causes similar symptoms; however, they are different, unrelated viruses.
The FIV virus is present in the blood and saliva of infected cats, but itâ€™s a very fragile virus, and cannot survive for long outside the body. The FIV virus is primarily spread through bite wounds, when virus in the saliva of an infected cat is injected directly into the blood stream of the cat it bites. It requires a high dose to establish an infection in another cat and, therefore, is not easily passed from cat to cat. Free-roaming and feral cats are more likely to be infected because theyâ€™re susceptible to bites when mating or fighting for food and territory. Test strays before bringing them into your home, and cats that go outdoors should be checked annually. This disease is the best reason there is to keep your cat safely indoors.
A veterinarian can perform a test for FIV, by screening for the presence of the FIV antibodies in the blood that are present three to six weeks after infection.
Since false-positive results may occur, itâ€™s recommended that positive results be confirmed using a more sensitive second test with a different format. Infected mother cats can transfer FIV antibodies to nursing kittens who will show â€œfalse-positiveâ€ antibodies from their motherâ€™s milk for several months after birth. However, itâ€™s unlikely for an FIV mother to give the disease to her kittens. To clarify their infection status, kittens younger than 6 months that show positive results should be re-tested at 6 to 8 months of age when test results can be considered accurate.
FIV should not be a stigma that prevents a delightful feline from being adopted. If you already have a cat with FIV, consider adding a second FIV-positive cat to your home. These cats usually linger in rescue organizations or shelters because of the fear and misinformation about this virus.
There is no reason that FIV-positive cats cannot be blended into a home with FIV-negative cats as long as the cats get along well together. Cats in households with stable social structures where housemates do not fight are at little risk for acquiring FIV infections. It is not transmitted by casual contact and therefore it is unlikely to be spread by drinking or eating out of the same dishes, by sharing litter boxes, or by mutual grooming, snuggling and playing.
Because FIV is only transmitted through bite wounds, there would be very little risk of transmitting the disease with a non-aggressive FIV cat. Cats who are allowed to go outside are more at risk of being bitten by a feral or stray FIV-positive cat than by a friendly FIV-positive cat living as part of the family.
FIV is not a death sentence. Many FIV cats live normal lives and never show signs of the disease. They need careful attention to their general health and diet, and annual vaccinations, but all cats should receive this. A positive diagnosis should not be a reason that prevents a gentle, loving cat from finding a home. Love is a powerful immune system enhancer, and with good care and lots of love, an FIV cat can enjoy a long life.
Care tips for FIV-positive cats
o A cat diagnosed with FIV needs annual vet exams and kept up-to-date on their routine vaccinations, including flea control, because fleas can transmit many types of diseases.
o Address any medical problems immediately.
o Support the catâ€™s immune system with good nutrition and antioxidant supplements.
o Keep the food and water bowls, litter box, bedding and toys clean, so bacteria and other viruses donâ€™t weaken the immune system. Diluted household bleach of about 4 ounces of bleach to a gallon of water will kill infectious organisms.
o Uncooked food, like raw meat or eggs and unpasteurized dairy products should not be fed to FIV-infected cats because of the risk of food-borne bacteria and parasites.
Barnosky can be reached at 330-725-4160, ext. 4075, via e-mail at email@example.com or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.