FIV infects white blood cells in the immune system, either damaging or killing them. It is similar to what causes AIDS in humans, but there isn’t any risk of FIV being spread to people from the infected cats. FIV infected cats have a higher risk of infection and disease from bacteria and other viruses as they have an unhealthy immune system. There isn’t a cure for FIV, so once a cat is infected, it is for life. Some cats carry FIV for many years without showing any symptoms and the most at risk cats are unneutered male cats. This is just one of the reasons why neutering and spaying cats is so important, and one reason for keeping cats indoors or using a cat containment system to stop cats from coming into contact with carriers.
The Symptoms of FIV
One of the problems with diagnosing FIV is the lack of symptoms or the mild symptoms that could go unnoticed. In the early years the cat may have a mild fever and there can be swollen lymph nodes too. As time passes, FIV can become more obvious as the infection progresses through their system. In time the symptoms can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Recurrent diarrhoea
- Runny nose
- Inflammations of the eye
- Skin infections
- The risk of cancer increases
Cats need to have a blood test to establish if they have FIV or another virus, such as FeLV. Unfortunately, the current tests for FIV are not 100% accurate and some cats show as negative when they are positive. It can also take 12 weeks after infection for the virus to show up in the tests.
How Do Cats Catch FIV?
Cats pass the virus through saliva, which is why it is so easily spread as a result of cat fights. Male cats are considered to be the highest risk of catching the virus as it only takes a single bite for the infection to spread from cat to cat.
Cats can also become infected if they are born to an infected mother. Moreover, there’s a small chance that cats will catch FIV by licking each other during grooming sessions and by sharing bowls.
Sadly, there isn’t a vaccine that protects cats from FIV here in the UK.