Feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV is an all too common and insidious virus affecting our feline companions. FIV is closely related to the human AIDS virus, hence it is commonly referred to as Feline AIDS, and while it has many similarities, it is not infectious to people.
This virus is usually transmitted by deep bite wounds. All cats that spend time outside are at risk. I find many cat owners don’t believe that their cat is at risk, either because they are only outside during the day or they don’t believe they get into cat fights. This is a risky assumption. An alarming 7% to 29% of cats in Australia are infected with FIV. We certainly don’t see a comparable proportion of cat bite related injuries, so many of these cat bites are going undetected.
Like the human AIDS virus, FIV attacks the immune system, meaning that the body is not capable of fighting infections. Infected cats won’t show any specific clinical signs rather they are simply more likely to get sick from opportunistic infections. There is no cure for FIV, however it is possible for some infected cats to live a nearly normal life span. This necessitates a high degree of dedication by their owners to manage any secondary infections.
The good news for cat owners is the development of a vaccine to help prevent your cats being infected by this virus. It is important to point out that this vaccine only protects against FIV subtypes A and D. Fortunately in Australia, over 97% of infected cats are infected with subtype A, and a very small percentage with subtype B, so this vaccine offers protection against the vast majority of our FIV infections.
If you choose to have your cat vaccinated for FIV, it is important to have your cat microchipped as routine blood tests cannot differentiate between cats that have been vaccinated from those that have been infected. In a practical sense, this is of major importance if your cat is ever lost and picked up by an animal shelter. These shelters will routinely test all cats for FIV and if found to be positive, may be euthanased rather than put up for adoption if they are not claimed. Microchipping easily overcomes this problem, ensuring that your cat will always be returned home.
With such a high prevalence of Feline immunodeficiency virus in Australia, we believe that all cat owners should seriously consider protecting their cats with this vaccine, or keep them indoors. Please feel free to discuss with us any concerns you may have about FIV or vaccinations.
Asher from Anstead Veterinary Practice