Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Causative Agent: Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a lentivirus, similar to another well-known lentivirus, HIV, the human virus responsible for AIDS. First discovered in 1987, FIV is common worldwide, although it may be more or less prevalent in specific geographic locations. FIV is more common in males than in females and is more common in adults than in younger animals.

Clinical Signs: FIV causes a suppression of the bodyís normal immune system. The syndrome proceeds through several phases, similar to HIV infections in humans. The suppression of the catís immune system results in increased susceptibility to other infectious diseases, such as infections of the skin, ears, eyes, digestive tract, respiratory tract, and urinary tract. Severe inflammation of the gums and tissues of the mouth (stomatitis) is also common in FIV-infected cats. Secondary problems such as low red blood cells (anemia) and certain types of cancer may also result from FIV infections. This compounding of problems is often life-threatening to the cat.

Disease Transmission: FIV is shed in the saliva and is generally thought to be transmitted through bite and fight wounds. Transmission has also been shown to occur in the womb and through ingestion of milk from an infected female.

Diagnosis: FIV-specific antibodies can be detected through a simple test with a sample of blood or saliva from a suspect cat. These tests are generally easy to use, inexpensive, and give a quick answer. False positive or false negative tests can occur, and retesting is sometimes required. See page D228 for more information on the FIV test.

Treatment: There is no specific treatment which will eliminate FIV infection. Experimental use of drugs known as immunomodulators (drugs which modify the immune system and/or its response to disease) has been attempted, but is not yet proven to be significantly effective. Treatment usually centers around symptomatic therapy, and treatment of secondary infections with antibiotics, antifungals, or antiprotozoals. Treatment of severe stomatitis may be successful with a variety of medications; in severe cases, extraction of all the teeth may be necessary to provide relief and comfort to the afflicted cat.

Prevention: Animals that are positive for the virus should be kept away from other cats. Preventing animals from roaming and fighting can also help to reduce the spread of this disease. Some progress has been made in creating a vaccine for FIV. However, some problems exist in providing a safe and effective vaccine, and no product is currently available. It is likely that a vaccine product for FIV will be available in the future.

Public Health Concerns: There is no evidence to support transmission of FIV from cats to people.