Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Claire Dunling

What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus?

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV is a virus that affects the white blood cells of the immune system. Though FIV has similar traits to AIDS, it DOES NOT mean your cat has AIDS, nor does it necessarily mean your cat will die. Because of the AID’s connection, myths surround the FIV virus. We’ll bust a few of those here:

Even though the virus isn’t as threatening as some might think, you should follow FIV guidelines and ensure others around them are protected. Cats with FIV can go on to live many happy years, however, they are more susceptible to catching illnesses and infections so will need extra care.

Symptoms of FIV

FIV can go unnoticed for a substantial amount of time as symptoms are almost non-existent. It’s months or years later that symptoms start to display. It’s worth bearing in mind that FIV symptoms are very broad and could apply to several other health issues. Typical symptoms include:

Helping your cat avoid FIV

The infection is generally passed on through severe bites. FIV is commonly found in unneutered tomcats that can roam freely. The best preventative measure against FIV is not allowing your cat out at night, as this is when cats typically get into fights. Also getting your cat neutered to minimise the chance of fighting over potential mates is another way of reducing their chances of catching the illness.

There are occasional times when an infected mother can pass it on to her litter, from her milk. It is estimated that a quarter of kittens born to an infected mum will contract FIV. The virus is passed on through saliva, so there’s a slight possibility that it could be passed on through sharing bowls or grooming one another, also.

How to know your cat is infected with FIV

Having no obvious symptoms makes FIV very hard to diagnose. Your vet may suggest running an FIV screening at a general check-up, if they’ve been under the weather or if they have any bites or abscesses. To detect the illness, your vet will take a blood test – this will check for antibodies that are related to the virus. If these antibodies are found then this indicates that the infection is present, however, FIV testing can be quite inaccurate if the infection is in its early stages. Further analysis in the shape of a lab test called “Western Blot” will be taken to rule the virus out indefinitely.

In cases where kittens may be infected from their mother, the blood test will not give an accurate reading if they are under 20 weeks. The antibodies will be in their system, regardless of whether they are infected or not, so testing of kittens should be taken from 20 weeks or older to give a definitive diagnosis.

Also, it can take as long 12 weeks for blood tests to detect the virus, so if you have any suspicions your cat is infected, you should wait till 12 weeks else you’ll just get a false negative.

What to do if your cat has FIV?

Keeping them indoors permanently or at least for most of the time is one of the most important things to do if your cat has FIV. This may be difficult for independent outdoorsy cats, but it will stop them from passing the infection on or being vulnerable to further illness.

As your cat will be more susceptible to falling ill, ensuring they are regularly given flea and wormer treatments are important. Also, providing a veterinary based nutritional diet is crucial as this will help in keeping them healthy and bolstering up their immune system.

If your cat is not already neutered or spayed – get this done asap! The urge to fight or roam is significantly reduced when cats are neutered.

There is currently no FIV vaccine available in the UK.

This article is for guidance only and if you have any concerns about your pet you should always seek the advice of a qualified vet.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!