Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
Feline immunodeficiency virus causes a potentially fatal viral disease that interferes with the cat’s immune system similar to HIV virus in humans (note: It does not transmit to humans). The virus resides in the blood stream of infected cats and transmission is usually through saliva from a bite wound. Close contact such as grooming or sharing a food bowl does not spread FIV.
FIV causes various clinical signs in affected cats. The general presenting signs in most of the cases we have seen at our surgery relate to immunosuppression caused by the virus. FIV affects the ability of the cat’s immune system to fight off other infections which would generally, in a healthy cat produce no overt signs of disease. We often see them presented for general sickness and fever. They’re off their food and just generally lethargic. They can settle and improve only to relapse a week or two later. They will often present with severe gum inflammation and associated oral signs such as bad breath and dribbling.
Risk in Rodney
NZ has one of the highest rates of FIV infection in the world. The factors which contribute to this are the high population of cat ownership in NZ, the high numbers of feral cats and the outdoor lifestyle enjoyed by NZ cats.
In a 2010 paper published in NZ, the prevalence of FIV infection ranged from 7% in healthy cats, to up to 27.3% of sick cats. A study of feral cats across NZ showed 21.5% were positive.
To assess our local risk we recently tested 20 “high risk” cats (i.e repeat cat bite recipients) seen at our Warkworth practice and found 3 positive for FIV. Based on the frequency of which we see FIV cases in our area, we believe that the prevalence being maintained in the local population of cats (both wild and domestic) is similar to that found in the national study above. Meaning the risks of infection are still significant, especially if your cat is coming into contact and fighting with other cats of unknown health status.
Treatment and Control
There is no effective treatment for FIV, and often secondary diseases also become refractory to treatment due to severe immunosuppression.
Unfortunately, due to compromised animal welfare, the severity of disease and the owners responsibility to prevent the spread and multiplication of this disease in our local environment the only option left is humane euthanasia. Rarely, cases can be managed by the owner at home given strict control of the cats movements can be ensured and any pain or suffering from secondary diseases can be controlled by treatment.
Prevention through vaccination
The consequences of FIV infection are so severe that we would recommend all cat owners consider this as part of their vaccination protocol. It is not considered a “core” vaccine, and is not required, for example, to be able to put your cat into a cattery. We operate at the pointy end of cat ownership and see the consequences of FIV infection; a drawn out illness with lots of repeat vet visits and diagnostic tests, all too often ending badly, and therefore encourage you to consider FIV vaccination.
The vaccination protocol involves 3 vaccinations from 8 weeks of age at 2 – 4 week intervals, and then an annual booster vaccine. This can be performed at the same time as your “cat flu” vaccinations. However, please note the following important points before starting vaccination.
- Current testing cannot distinguish between a true FIV infected cat Vs a cat vaccinated against FIV. For this reason we strongly advise that you microchip and register with the companion animal register also, so your cat is permanently traceable and so his/her vaccination status can be known.
- We have a package price for 3 FIV vaccinations, microchip and CAR registration. For details please phone the surgery.
- Adult naive cats starting a vaccination program will require a blood test to confirm they are FIV free first.