Feline immunodeficiency virus: The diagnosis used to strike terror into the hearts of cat caretakers as they imagined their feline friends living tortured and short lives, constantly ill or in pain. But as understanding of the disease and treatment techniques have evolved, FIV-positive cats are living longer, healthier lives. There’s lots of good information available about the diagnosis and treatment of FIV, but here are a few things you might not have known.
FIV was discovered in 1986 at a California cattery, where cats were falling ill with symptoms similar to those of AIDS. (The human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, was identified and named between 1983 and 1986.) FIV has since been found in every country that tests for it, and scientists believe cats have carried the virus for many years before it was documented by veterinarians.
Cats get infected with FIV through deep bite wounds, which occur most often among un-neutered male cats fighting for mating or territorial rights. This alone is a great reason to have your cat spayed or neutered. Snuggling and even mutual grooming won’t spread the virus between cats.
When an FIV-positive mother cat gives birth, the young ones do inherit the antibodies (the cells that fight off the disease) but usually not the virus itself. The Winn Feline Foundation recommends that any young kittens testing positive for FIV be retested when they’re over 6 months old.
Any cat that receives the FIV vaccine will test positive for FIV antibodies. The current FIV tests — the "snap test" performed at shelters and vets’ offices and the more complex Western Blot — can’t distinguish between antibodies produced by the vaccine and antibodies produced by the virus. This is one reason why many vets don’t recommend FIV vaccinations for any but the highest-risk cats.
Because the feline immunodeficiency virus is in the same family of viruses as the human immunodeficiency virus, FIV-positive cats can help researchers develop treatments that could improve the lives of HIV-positive people. John Elder of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, is one them: His team is working on a project to define regulatory mechanisms that control how FIV affects the body.
The most important thing any cat lover should know is that FIV is not a death sentence. With a healthy diet, lots of love, regular vet care, and a calm environment, an FIV-positive cat can enjoy a good quality of life for many years after a diagnosis.
Do you have an FIV-positive cat? What do you do to make sure your furry friend stays as healthy and comfortable as possible? Leave a comment and let us know.