Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) – ‘Feline Aids’

What is it?

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) destroys a cat’s immune system, leaving them susceptible to illness and infectious disease. FIV comes from the same retrovirus family as Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

FIV can remain dormant for many years but it is not until the virus progresses to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (known as Feline Aids) that health complications occur. In Australia 14%-29% of domesticated cats are FIV positive.

How does my cat contract FIV?

The virus is spread through a cat’s saliva. Outdoor cats that engage in catfights and are inflicted with bite wounds are at high risk of contracting the virus. Pregnant cats can pass the virus onto their young through their milk and placenta. Infected cats that groom regularly and share bowls are less likely to transmit the disease.

How do I know if my cat has contracted FIV?

There is a simple and fast test that your Veterinarian can perform within minutes. It involves taking a small sample of your cat’s blood. However the test is only accurate if it has been at least 60 days since your cat has contracted the virus, so more than one test may be required.

Signs and Symptoms

Cats that are FIV positive can live for many years as healthy cats and some can live as little a few years. As the virus destroys your cat’s immune system they will eventually develop other illness and disease.

Initially symptoms may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Diarrhoea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fever

Other diseases that may present later include:

  • Eye illness
  • Dental disease/mouth sores
  • Cancer
  • Weight loss
  • Infections of the urinary tract, skin & gastrointestinal tract
  • Behaviour changes

Treatment of FIV

Unfortunately there is no direct treatment for FIV but there is treatment available for the diseases that they are susceptible to.

Looking after a cat with FIV

If your cat has been tested positive for FIV, it’s important that you now recognise your cat can easily develop infections because of their compromised immune system. They should be supported by a balanced diet, regular worming treatment, booster vaccinations (speak to your vet first) and dental hygiene.

If your cat has tested positive to FIV it’s important you take responsibly and ensure that other cats around your home do not contract the virus. To do this FIV positive cats should be kept indoors. This not only protects your infected cat but also reduces the risk of spreading the virus.

Vaccinations against FIV

If you suspect your cat has contracted FIV have them tested. If tests reveal they are negative we highly recommend vaccinating them. There is a course of three FIV vaccinations required for you cat to be completely protected. These must be given 2-4 weeks apart for each injection. From then on they will require an annual booster injection.

The Cat Fight Abscess

Cat owners will understand the typical squeals and cries that can be heard at night when a cat fight occurs. Cats are very territorial and stoic creatures and will always continue to defend their home. As a cat owner it’s important to recognise the signs of a cat fight wound and what to do about it. 

What does a cat fight wound look like?

When a cat has just been bitten puncture wounds will generally be seen. The skin around the puncture will often be inflamed and in most cases blood can be seen. Within the next few days the puncture wounds will begin to heal over and it may appear that the wounds are healing quite well. However, an infection could be brewing under the surface and soon an abscess will form.

What is an Abscess?

An abscess is an accumulation of pus underneath the skin. Often it presents as a lump that eventually bursts. They can be very painful and can make your cat quite sick. Cats can experience a loss of appetite, pain around the affected site, and in some cases cats become quite lethargic, not wanting to move due to the discomfort and fever.

How does the cat fight wound form an abscess?

A cat’s mouth is full of bacteria so when they bite another cat some of the bacteria are transferred to the bite wound. The wound will generally heal over quite quickly but it’s the bacteria that is left underneath the skin to manifest that is the problem. As the bacteria multiplies and pus is produced the wound begins to swell causing a serious infection. 

If the wound is not treated the infection has the potential to spread to other parts of the body, including the bone, chest and joints. In extreme cases it can cause a septic infection where the bacteria has entered the blood stream and affected the entire body.

Symptoms of an abscess

  • Lethargy
  • Abnormal swelling at the wound site
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reluctant to move
  • Pain

What to do if your cat has been bitten

Whether your cat has been recently bitten or they were bitten a few days ago it’s important you take them to a vet straight away. The sooner your cat is given antibiotics the less chance an abscess will form. It can take up to two weeks for an abscess to form so do not wait until that happens.

Treatment

If the bite has occurred within a few days and there is no swelling at the site, antibiotics and pain relief may be all that is needed. If an abscess has formed your cat will likely require a general anaesthetic to effectively drain and remove the pus. The wound will be clipped and cleaned with our surgical scrub. The vet will then lance the wound so that the pus can be cleaned out. A small rubber drain will be inserted and secured with skin sutures to allow the wound to clear over the coming days. Any dead tissue will be removed and the wound will be thoroughly flushed with saline to eliminate all those nasty bugs.

In 3-5 days time your cat will need to have the skin sutures removed to take out the drain. Pain relief and antibiotics will be prescribed to eliminate any pain or discomfort.

Will my cat get FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency virus) or Feline Leukaemia from the bite wound?

There is always a possibility that you cat can contract FIV or Feline Leukaemia from another cat that is infected. Your cat cannot be tested straight away but in 6-8 weeks we can perform an in-house blood test to ensure they are not contracted the virus.

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