The feline immunodeficiency virus is a feared pathogen for all domestic cat owners. The virus can also affect cheetahs, lions and other members of the cat family. The disease is not zoonotic meaning it cannot be transferred to humans, just as HIV in humans cannot be transferred to cats. It is categorised as lentivirus and is related to the feline leukaemia virus, although presents many differences. The virus replicates itself in the T-lymphocytes of the cat and spreads throughout its lymph nodes. It attacks the cat’s immune system thus rendering the animal relatively incapable of protecting itself against other diseases. The virus is spread via saliva to blood contact and so tom cats are particularly susceptible to the disease since they are more likely to roam around to defend their territories by fighting and biting.
Transmission occurs if the virus has access to the blood usually from infected saliva. This is commonly seen as an infected cat bites a healthy cat. Other contact where this doesn’t happen do not usually spread the infection. A pregnant queen can pass on the virus as she gives birth though this is very rare.
Infected cats should remain within the home and prevented from transferring the disease to other cats if fighting and biting is likely. The virus does not survive for very long away from the host and most disinfectants should destroy it. Bedding, litter trays, food bowls, and other contaminated surfaces should be regularly disinfected taking care that the disinfected isn’t ingested by any animals.
As a “slow virus” there may be no symptoms for as long as a few years. When the symptoms do arise however, there is sometimes an enlargement of the lymph nodes, fever and a loss of appetite. Occasionally there will be diarrhoea, weight loss and even seizures. The animal’s coat will lose its condition and stomatitis will be observed accompanied by gingivitis. Pregnant queens can sometimes experience abortions.
By weakening the cat’s immune system, the virus allows other pathogens to infect and damage the animal. Simple diseases which may not have previously affected the cat prior to infection of FIV can then actually lead to death. Reccurring infections can be a sign that the feline immunodeficiency virus has been contracted.
Treatment and Prevention
There is no cure against FIV and the only treatment given can be those to deal with secondary infections. Vaccinations are available but it has been suggested that not all cats obtain enough protection from the vaccines.
Diagnosis and Prognosis
Blood samples are taken to identify the presence of certain antibodies by the ELISA test within the cat. A decreased abundance of white blood cells is also noticed. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test can be used to diagnose FIV.