Cat Aids or FIV: Dangerous Immune Deficiency

Despite progress and advances in medical research, AIDS has not lost its terror in humans and is still one of the most threatening diseases. But even cats are not immune to immune deficiency diseases: The “feline acquired immunodeficiency syndrome” is colloquially referred to as feline AIDS and is similar to the human disease counterpart in many respects.

What exactly is cat aids and what does FIV mean?

The immune deficiency disease in cats is triggered by the feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV for short. This abbreviation has also established itself as a synonym for the disease. The virus belongs to the family of the so-called lentiviruses: slow-moving viruses in which the onset of the actual disease occurs with a delay.
FIV is widespread among domestic cats worldwide, five subgroups of the virus are known. It is estimated that around 11% of domestic cats worldwide are carriers of the pathogen.

The risk group includes above all tomcats with free-range, who meet infected cats or are involved in turf fights by rivals and sustain injuries: The virus is usually transmitted via blood and saliva. The pathogen penetrates the bloodstream of the bitten animal via bites, reaches the lymph nodes, and begins there to attack the lymphocytes. In rarer cases, an infected pregnant cat can pass the virus on to her babies while still in the womb. Sexual contacts between the animals, on the other hand, are medically inconspicuous in cat AIDS. Not only domestic cats can contract FIV: forms of viral infection in big cats have been documented worldwide.

What are the symptoms of an FIV cat?

The virus intervenes in the body’s immune system, weakens it, and promotes secondary diseases that ultimately lead to death. The cat doesn’t actually die from FIV itself, but from the infections that its own body can no longer fight off. The disease usually only breaks out when the infected cats are older than five years. The original contamination at this point in time may have been a long time ago.

The first symptoms of FIV are fever, a decrease in white blood cells, swelling of the lymph nodes, and diarrhea. After this phase, the disease can subside for a long time before flaring up again. As a result, the general condition of the sick animals worsens. The FIV cat has symptoms of varying severity: the coat becomes thin, fever, diarrhea, and inflammation of the conjunctiva, gums, or mucous membranes that do not heal. The cats lose weight, suffer from loss of appetite and swollen lymph nodes.

All of these clinical effects are effects of the dysfunctional immune system, which is no longer able to cope with infection, bacteria, or fungi. If the disease continues, it can eventually lead to respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, urological and dermatological problems; also the outbreak of cancer and anemia. Very characteristic are neurological defects, which can express themselves with sudden aggression or dementia.

How can I care for an FIV cat?

Feline leukemia and another viral disease, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), can develop symptoms similar to feline AIDS. FIV can only be unequivocally proven on a serological basis by testing for the presence of antibodies in the blood. To be on the safe side, two such tests should be carried out at intervals, as the formation of antibodies is delayed. A test taken too early can give false results.
According to the current state of veterinary medicine, it is not possible to cure FIV. Thus, caring for a cat infected with feline AIDS does not require immediate care or therapy for FIV, but the treatment of the secondary infections and alleviation of their symptoms.

For its own protection and that of other cats, the affected cat must no longer be allowed to go outside. Their living environment should be as stress-free as possible so that their health is not impaired by psychological factors. Antiviral chemotherapy can delay the onset of the disease. With the right medication, an infected cat can live without symptoms for a long time. Only when the final phase of the disease begins is no further therapy possible. The diseased animals then usually die within a year. There is currently no vaccine against cat aids in Europe, but sera are being researched. Just as with human AIDS, the different virus strains and mutations complicate the development of a drug.

While you can’t prevent a cat from becoming infected with FIV, there are some methods you can use to reduce the risk. Indoor cats that have no contact with potentially infected cats live the safest. Outdoor cats should be neutered as early as possible: This reduces the territorial behavior of the animals and there are fewer fights with bites.

Do you have any questions? Our vet team of Dr. Fressnapf is available online for all matters relating to your cat’s health. The veterinarians will be happy to advise you on castration and how to deal with animals that are already infected.

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