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FIV in Cats : The Symptoms and Treatments You Need to Know

Posted in: Cat Health - Last Updated: January 28, 2022 - Author: Rebekah Carter
Posted in Cat Health 
Last Updated: January 23, 2022  
Author:  Rebekah Carter

FIV, otherwise known as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, is a common problem in the cat world. This feline viral infection occurs worldwide and first appeared during an investigation of a disease outbreak in a previously healthy colony of cats within the USA.

Though this condition is slow-acting, your cat’s immune system will generally be seriously weakened when the infection takes hold. The virus is remarkably similar to that which causes the HIV infection in humans – although the two viruses are species-specific and cannot be translated or transmitted from cat to human. FIV only infects cats, so there’s no risk of spreading.

When FIV in cats happens, it makes the cat significantly susceptible to infections and other illnesses, which is why experts recommend keeping FIV positive cats indoors, living a stress-free life.

What is FIV in Cats Anyway?

Feline immunodeficiency virus attacks the white blood cells within your cats' immune system, either damaging or destroying them entirely. Unfortunately, a healthy immune system is crucial to fighting infections and illness. This means FIV cats are more likely to be susceptible to illness. Like HIV, once a cat contracts FIV, the infection is permanent.

Cats that are not neutered, and those that go outdoors frequently are more at risk. However, there’s a lot of local and regional various to consider too.

FIV mainly passes between cats through deep and infected bite wounds. These are the wounds that frequently occur indoors during aggressive territorial disputes and fights. It’s rare, but some mother cats can also pass this condition to their kittens. FIV doesn’t seem to be shared through other forms of animal contact.

What are the Symptoms of FIV?

One of the things that makes FIV so tricky to manage, is that it’s not always possible to see the symptoms straight away. A cat may not show any signs of having the illness at all for years after the infection. However, they may begin to show more common signs of sickness slowly. Common symptoms include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes: If your cat appears to have swollen glands, then this could be a sign that they are struggling with their immune system. Enlarged lymph nodes often lead to reduced eating habits.
  • Weight loss and poor appetite: Illness and other issues can cause your cat to lose interest in its food. This leads to weight loss over time, and may also prompt more gastrointestinal issues, like diarrhoea.
  • Fever: There shouldn’t be any signs that your cat is sweating or overheated if they’re healthy. If you notice a dishevelled coat, panting, or other signs of fever, this could indicate FIV.
  • Inflammation: infections regularly cause all kinds of inflammation in your cat, from swelling and discomfort around the eyes to redness and swelling in the gums – like gingivitis. Swelling can sometimes occur around the mouth too.
  • Skin redness or hair loss: If your cat feels unwell, he or she may begin to groom more frequently, causing bald patches. Hair loss can also be a more direct sign that your cat is suffering from an infection.
  • Discharge and cold-like symptoms: if your cat is regularly sneezing, showing a lot of discharge from the nose and eyes, or they’re suffering with a lot of drooling, this could indicate something is wrong.
  • Urination issues: Cats that regularly go to the litter box don’t always have issues with illness. However, if you notice a sudden change in urination frequency or urination outside of the litter box, check with your vet.
  • Wounds that don’t heal: If your cat gets into a fight with another animal inside or outside of your household, keep an eye on healing times. How long does it take for an injury to scab over as it should?
  • Recurring infections: You might notice that your cat keeps getting urinary infections, ear issues, or eye issues after an interaction with another feline. This could be a sign that FIV is harming his or her immune system.
  • Behavior changes: Is your cat suddenly moodier and more isolated than usual? Have they become more or less vocal? Any sudden changes in behaviour deserve a full investigation from a qualified vet.

How do You Know a Cat is Infected with FIV?

Unfortunately, the FIV symptoms in cats that we mentioned above are reasonably vague. Many of the signs that might indicate a problem for your kitty could also link to a range of other ailments. The only way to know for certain is to see a vet.

Your vet should be able to define a FIV infection through blood testing. Ideally, you would have a test conducted as soon as you adopt your kitty, just in case. This will help you to protect other cats if you decide to let your feline friend roam around outside.

FIV tests check for the presence of antibodies to the FIV infection in the cat’s blood. Although the tests aren’t 100% accurate 100% of the time, your vet should be able to determine whether additional testing is necessary. Remember, since it is possible (though unlikely) for a female cat to pass antibodies to her children, a test can sometimes be a false positive for some kittens.

Most vets recommend not getting a test for a kitten younger than 20 weeks, to keep the results as accurate as possible. It’s also worth noting that it can take up to 12 weeks after transmission of the virus for the blood test to detect the presence of an infection.

Consult your vet as soon as you begin to suspect that your cat may have FIV. This will help to reduce the risk of secondary infections that could have a dangerous impact on your cat. Additionally, getting a test fast could assist in reducing the spread of FIV in your cat.

Can You Prevent FIV in Cats? and other Facts

The best way to prevent a cat from contracting FIV is to keep them indoors. This prevents interactions with other infected felines. You can try taking your cats for walks on a leash if you don’t want him or her to go outdoors unsupervised.

Another point to remember if you want to avoid FIV in cats symptoms, is to ensure that all cats both at your home, and at catteries are tested for possible infections. Recently adopted cats must have a test before entering your home. A few things to keep in mind when it comes to FIV include:

  • It’s a fragile virus: Petting a cat that has FIV and then cuddling with your own furry friend at home shouldn’t lead to any kind of transmission. This virus doesn’t survive in litter trays, food bowls, baskets, or clothing. You won’t accidentally carry it to your kitty.
  • Outdoor cats are most susceptible: The ASPCA says that free-roaming cats that aren’t neutered, and therefore fight more often, are more susceptible than any other kitty.
  • A vaccine is available: Studies into FIV have led to the development of a vaccine. Unfortunately, most vets won’t recommend using this vaccine. Remember, your cat can still lead a healthy and happy life with FIV.
  • Symptoms aren’t always obvious: While you might notice some changes in your cat a while after they contract FIV, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, cats don’t show any symptoms at all. Other times, you might notice a few mild symptoms, but your vet might not connect those signs with FIV unless a test is requested.
  • Every cat needs a test: The only way to truly discover whether your cat has FIV symptoms is to go through a blood test. FIV is diagnosed through this blood test and knowing that your cat is infected is an excellent way to protect other kitties, and your furry friend.
  • There’s no antiviral treatment: Unfortunately, there’s no obvious treatment right now for FIV. However, vets may suggest some changes that you can make to your cat’s schedule to protect them. You can also take additional protective steps at home to prevent your cat from getting other ailments because of FIV.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that a cat with FIV can easily continue to live a healthy and happy life. You won’t need to consider putting your cat down just because they’ve received a diagnosis of FIV. Although FIV symptoms can be upsetting for your cat, your vet will be able to give you guidance on how to make them as comfortable as possible.


FIV in Cats : Treatment and Management

As mentioned above, at this time, there’s no reliable treatment for FIV. Cats may carry this virus for years before any symptoms appear. This means that most treatment strategies will focus on extending the period in which your feline friend is asymptomatic. If symptoms do set in, your vet can also give you guidance on how to overcome them. Common strategies include:

  • Medication for secondary infections
  • Healthy diets that encourage better nutrition
  • Fluid and electrolyte replacement therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs for comfort
  • Immune enhancing drugs
  • Parasite control

Most FIV cats can live happy and healthy lives with the correct healthy diet programme and regular veterinary visits.. Whether the disease develops or worsens will depend on a lot of factors, including whether your cat is frequently exposed to secondary infections. Your vet will often recommend neutering your cat to begin with, to help reduce the risk of fighting and therefore spreading infection.

You should always also consider keeping any FIV positive cats indoors for the safety of other pets and animals in your area. There are excellent indoor cats foods to keep your indoor moggy happy and healthy inside. This will also reduce the exposure of your cat to other agents that may be dangerous or infectious. If you have multiple cats in your home, you may need to separate those without FIV, or think about rehoming.

Though all cats can benefit from regular preventative healthcare, like routine vaccinations and check-ups, you’ll need to be extra cautious with your FIV positive cat. Your vet will recommend a schedule for treatments and check-ups and give you advice on how to stay ahead of things like flea and work control.

How Serious is an FIV Infection?

Notably, a cat with FIV can still live a long time and fill your life with a lot of joy. You shouldn’t consider rehoming or getting rid of your cat just because they’re FIV positive. However, it’s important to remember that this is still a serious condition that requires the correct care and treatment. FIV infects the white blood cells in your cat’s immune system that can cause a gradual decline in the cat’s immune functioning.

In the first few weeks after an infection, the virus may replicate and cause mild signs of disease such as swollen lymph nodes and fever, but these typically go unnoticed. To protect your cat, make sure you watch out for any changes in your cat’s actions. Some kitties will never show any signs of an issue.

As vets and animal specialists continue to examine the FIV infection, more treatment options might emerge. For instance, some experts are experimenting with Interferons – naturally-produced compounds that have anti-viral effects and immune responses. A recombinant feline interferon is currently available in some parts of the world that may help to protect against FIV. At this time, it’s unsure whether the treatment will impact FIV-infected felines.

Antiviral drugs like AZT may also be effective for fighting against FIV in cats. These drugs won’t necessarily cure a cat that has FIV, but if the symptoms of the disease are very severe, your cat might offer help in this form to assist with your cat’s ailments. Remember that many treatment options will be quite expensive, unfortunately.

FIV Symptoms in Cats: A Quick FAQ

FIV is a significant ailment that needs to be taken seriously by any pet owner. The good news is that your cat will still potentially life a healthy life with the infection. The worse news is that you’re going to need to make sure that you’re taking steps to protect both your furry friend, and other felines in your area.

For this most part, the most valuable thing you can do is keep your FIV cat indoors, so he can’t infect others, or worsen his condition. Here are some other FAQs to help:

Q: How serious is FIV in cats?

A: Although FIV is a serious ailment, it isn’t necessarily fatal. Remember that FIV cats can potentially live as long as non-infected cats, so there’s no need to worry about putting your cat to sleep initially. Although FIV may not affect cat life expectancy, the biggest risk to your furry friend comes with additional or secondary infections that he or she might not be able to protect himself against. Making sure your cat stays safe indoors is crucial.

Q: What if I have other cats?

A: Cats with FIV can pass the infection on to other felines in your household. This means that you should have any other cats in your household immediately tested if you’re concerned. You may need to keep FIV-positive cats isolated, or rehomed if you’re scared that social contact will be difficult to control. Feed cats using different food bowls if possible, but it’s worth noting that it’s unlikely for the virus to spread through shared products alone.

Q: How quickly can I get a diagnosis for FIV in cats?

This all depends on your cat. If you notice any strange symptoms within the first 20 weeks of your cat’s life, your vet is unlikely to conduct a blood test because the results may not be conclusive. However, if your cat is old enough, you can have a blood test done straight away. It can take a while for the infection to be present in the blood too.

Q: My cat’s neutered, should I keep him indoors?

A cat that hasn’t been neutered is a bigger risk of infection than one that has. That’s because your cat will be more likely to start fights over territory when he hasn’t been neutered. Crucially, however, a cat that has been neutered should remain indoors to protect him or her from other infections that he can pick up outdoors. It’s also worth noting that neutered cats can still end up getting into fights with other animals, which could pass on the infection.

Q: Can my cat be cured of FIV in cats?

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for FIV. However, provided that your cat remains safe and healthy, treatment might not be necessary. Regular vaccinations and diet care will protect your furry pal against potential ailments that could worsen his or her health. Your vet will be able to give you guidance on what to do next.

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About the author

Rebekah Carter is a dedicated animal lover. Her Savannah cat, Roscoe, has a lot of attitude, while her Maine Coon, Dukino, is full of love. When not writing, she’s looking after her cats and researching ways to help them live their best possible life. Her passion for animals and natural skill for writing led her to pursue pet blogging.