Feline Aids – What You Need to Know

Feline Aids – What You Need to Know. We had a recent case which reminded me about Feline Aids and what you need to know about this potentially fatal disease in cats.

‘Fizz’ was inherited by his new owner, Bonnie Balogh, after friends had found him abandoned. Bonnie decided to take him on and brought him in to us for a general checkup. He came in to see Dr Beck and it was pretty obvious that he’d been living on the wild side for quite some time. He had the typical ‘boofy’ appearance that we see in intact tomcats and was covered in multiple old scars. Nonetheless, he was a lovely boy and had already found a way into Bonnie’s heart!

We advised Bonnie that, if she planned to keep Fizz (she did!), we should vaccinate, de-worm and de-sex him. With his history of living wild (and fighting), we ran a blood test to check he didn’t have Feline Aids (Feline Immunosuppressive Virus, if you want to be specific). This viral disease is quite common amongst the feral cat population in South Australia and is passed on by fighting, in most cases.

Unfortunately, the test came back with a positive result. This is to say that Fizz is infected with the FIV virus. At this point, he’s not showing any clinical signs of disease, luckily. We’ll have to be on the alert for any infection in future, however, and we’ll treat him more aggressively if he has been exposed. The good news for Bonnie is that, with a little additional care, there’s a good chance that Fizz can live for a number of years as a perfectly happy little boy!

Fizz is by no means on his own – as already mentioned, FIV is relatively common in the feral cat population. As such, we thought it would be a good idea to outline the disease for you with some key points.

  • FIV is not the same virus as AIDS in people

FIV is also referred to as Feline AIDS. Although there are distinct similarities to the human AIDS virus, the clinical disease in cats is different. Ultimately, it is fatal in cats but it can take a number of years before running its course.

  • It’s passed on by fighting in cats

Although mating in cats can look very much like fighting (it’s a pretty rough business!), the virus is generally transmitted through bite-wounds

  • It’s common in the feral population

Testing has shown that up to 20% of feral cats carry the virus. That’s a lot! Feral toms, in particular, are pretty aggressive beasts and will more than happily fight with your pet cat

  • There is no cure once a cat is infected

Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to treat the virus. Once infected, always infected. All it takes is one bite!

  • The most common clinical sign is poor response to healing

Cat-fight abscesses are a huge red flag to us, in vet practice, and often alert us to the possibility of FIV.  Just as is the case in human AIDS, a cats’ immune system is compromised by the virus. As a result, infected cats don’t deal well with infection.

  • We can test for the virus with a simple blood test

This is an inexpensive and rapid test which will rule out the possibility of infection in your cat. We run the test ‘in-house’ and it only takes a few minutes for us to have a result. 

  • There is a very effective vaccine that prevents infection

We now recommend that all cats are vaccinated against FIV. After an initial 3-shot course, it requires an annual booster. This can be done with your routine vaccination visits. 

  • Multi-cat households don’t generally have multiple cats affected

Presumably, this is because these cats don’t fight all that seriously.

  •  It’s not a good idea to let an infected cat mix with others.

Our advice is to keep an infected cat as a purely indoor pet. Not necessarily easy to do but it’s not fair to let your cat infect others in the neighbourhood.

If you’d like to hear more about this viral infection and how to prevent it, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Alternatively, our vets will chat to you about it next time you’re in for a routine health check for your four-legged friend. If you need to make an appointment, give our lovely receptionists a call on 8522 3500 or go online and book directly.

If any of these stories that we publish are of interest to you, and if you like our service, we’d encourage you to review us either by adding a comment to the blog, by visiting our FaceBook page or by reviewing us on Google. We rely heavily on word of mouth for our new clients and your (positive, hopefully!) recommendations are hugely helpful with this. Also, our team members love the positive reinforcement for the great job they all do – they deserve a big pat on the back, from time to time!


Picture of Anne Crouch

Anne Crouch

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