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feline aids

A Guide to Feline AIDS

Feline immunodeficiency virus, also commonly referred to as FIV, feline AIDS or cat AIDS, is a contagious disease which can be passed from one cat to another.

Feline immunodeficiency virus is similar in many ways to the feline leukemia (FeLV) virus. Both viruses are retroviruses and both viruses are contagious to other cats. However, the FIV and FeLV viruses are two completely different viruses.

Feline immunodeficiency virus is normally passed from one cat to another through contact with body secretions. Bite wounds from cat fights are the most common means of transmission. However, the virus can also be passed less frequently through sharing food dishes, water bowls, litter boxes, grooming, and other cat-to-cat contact.

Symptoms of feline immunodeficiency virus can be extremely variable. The FIV virus has the ability to depress the immune system of an infected cat, leaving the cat susceptible to secondary infections. Symptoms will depend on the type of infection present, but basically any time a cat becomes ill, FIV is something which needs to be ruled out as the cause, particularly if the cat's lifestyle puts the cat at risk of exposure to feline AIDS.

Testing for feline AIDS is recommended for all cats. Feline immunodeficiency virus testing is often done concurrently with feline leukemia virus testing. Recently, a new test which also includes a feline heartworm antigen test in conjunction with FIV and FeLV testing has been introduced and is being used extensively.

Testing is recommended for kittens (though there is the risk of maternal antibody interference with the test at a young age), for cats that are to be introduced to households with other cats, for cats that have been exposed to the virus and for cats that are ill. Kittens that test positive for FIV initially are often retested in several months to confirm that the test is truly positive and many test negative on a follow-up test.

These combination tests are good screening tests for FIV. However, more sensitive testing is recommended for cats which test positive on these tests to rule out the possibility of a false positive test and confirm the presence of an FIV infection.

A positive FIV test means that the cat has been exposed to the feline immunodeficiency virus. It does not mean that the cat is dying from the infection or is going to die from the infection, although the risk of disease is present.

A positive test does indicate that the exposed cat could be a carrier of the disease and therefore capable of passing the disease to other cats. Therefore, cats which test positive for feline AIDS should be housed separately indoors and not allowed contact with other uninfected cats.

Cats with positive FIV tests need to be monitored closely for signs of illness and medical attention should be pursued promptly should any signs of illness occur. Keeping these cats healthy, providing proper nutrition, avoiding stress as much as possible and encouraging a strong active immune system creates the basis for caring for a FIV positive cat.

Healthy cats testing positive for feline immunodeficiency virus do not need to be euthanized. However, it should be noted that FIV is usually fatal for those cats which are showing clinical signs of illness as a result of the virus.

There is a vaccination available for FIV. However, the vaccine is controversial and veterinarians do not always agree on whether the vaccine should be used. The feline immunodeficiency virus vaccine is a non-core vaccine and is recommended only for at-risk cats, if it is recommended at all. Vaccination produces a positive FIV test which may be mistaken for a FIV infection in some cats, leading to the controversy surrounding the vaccine. Cat owners should discuss the vaccine with their veterinarian to best determine whether their cat would benefit from the vaccine.

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