Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Humans often spread viruses to each other, but they aren’t the only species to do so. Cats are another type of animal with this ability. One virus that affects felines across the world is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). As scientists continue to learn about this virus, they discover ways to help FIV positive cats.
To fully understand FIV cats, we’ll take a look at how it is transmitted, its symptoms, how it is diagnosed, and options for treatment and prevention.
How Is the Virus Spread?
FIV is a lentivirus. Lentiviruses include any retroviruses with a long delay/incubation period. This virus, which is a feline lentivirus, works similarly to HIV in humans. Other species with lentiviruses include goats, apes, cows, sheep, and horses.
An FIV cat’s immune system is slow acting. Symptoms of the disease may not appear in an infected cat for many years after the cat is infected.
Only cats can become infected with this virus and spread it to other felines not male cats. Male cats that exhibit aggressive behavior are the most common transmitters. If an FIV positive cat is fighting with another non infected cats and leaves bite wounds, this may result in an exposure. The virus is transferred through saliva. Exposure may also occur if a wound is contaminated with the infected cats’ blood.
Mothers can also transmit it to their kittens, but this is rare. Current research does not indicate that the virus is spread commonly through feline sexual encounters.
A Brief History of FIV in Cats
FIV positive cats exist around the globe. The virus was identified in the late 1980s by Niels Pederson and Janet Yamamoto. Research suggests that the origins of the virus are linked to African felines.
The virus is relatively rare and is only found in approximately 1-5% of cats around the world. Non infected cats who live outdoors or are involved in aggressive behaviors are at a higher risk of exposure.
What Are the Symptoms of FIV in Cats?
It is usually difficult to identify the FIV virus in a cat by its symptoms alone. Symptoms might not emerge for several years. The FIV virus weakens the immune system response over time, eventually leading to complications and increasing the likelihood of other diseases.
If an FIV positive cat does start to present clinical signs, signs of illness may include the following:
Enlargement of the lymph nodes
The virus reproduces in and spreads to the lymph nodes throughout the body. This causes them to increase in size. This may be temporary or last for some time.
As the virus spreads it will cause an initial fever in FIV positive cats. It may also cause a more persistent fever later on as the body fights the virus.
The virus can also cause gastrointestinal distress in infected cats. Diarrhea is a common clinical signs in cats with FIV.
Loss of appetite and weight loss
FIV positive cats may lose interest in their food and lose weight quickly as a result. Weight loss may also occur from digestive issues.
This is an inflammation of the mouth that is common with FIV positive cats.
This condition is characterized by inflammation of the gums. They may suffer from other dental diseases as well.
Poor coat and skin condition
FIV positive cats may have irritated skin or fur loss. They may be less inclined to self-groom, which leads to a poor coat.
FIV positive cats may have excessive discharge, most commonly from the eyes and the nose. Infected cats may also be prone to sneezing.
An inflammation or build-up in the eye area is common in FIV cat. This typically affects the eye membrane.
FIV positive cats may experience issues with their kidneys and urinary tract. This may lead to urination outside of the litter box, difficulty urinating, and more.
Changes in behavior
FIV positive cats may show behavioral changes. They may become more aggressive or lethargic, for example.
Cats may experience neurological disorders such as seizures.
FIV positive cats have a weakened immune system, which means they are more prone to infections. Other viruses and bacteria in their environment pose a threat to their compromised systems. Various cancers and blood diseases, especially conditions like feline leukemia, are common in felines who have a weakened immune system from FIV.
What Are the Stages of FIV in Cats?
Like HIV in humans, FIV has different stages. Below are brief descriptions of the different phases of the virus in FIV positive cats:
- Phase 1: This first stage of viral infection, also known as the acute stage, is usually short. It may be characterized by symptoms like initial fever, loss of appetite, and enlargement of the lymph nodes
- Phase 2: This stage, also known as the latent stage, is usually the longest one. Cats with FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) can be in this stage for years and live fairly healthy lives. During this stage, FIV cats are generally asymptomatic.
- Phase 3: In the final stage, the virus progresses to its fullest point. It is known as Feline Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (commonly referred to as FAIDS or feline AIDS). It is similar to how HIV progresses into AIDS in humans. By this point, infected cats are at their weakest. The cat will be extremely susceptible to other diseases and viruses.
How Is FIV Diagnosed?
FIV is diagnosed through blood work. A technician will carefully examine the blood sample. The technician will look for the presence of antibodies, which is an immune response to the virus. If the animal has the virus but its immune system has not yet been affected, it may not have any FIV antibodies yet.
These antibodies can be detected using a variety of techniques, including:
- Western blot
- Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) (One of the more common tests)
- Immunofluorescence assay (IFA)
This test may be performed at a vet clinic with the help of a kit or be sent to special diagnostic labs. Most vets will confirm one positive results by using another type of test.
When testing a cat, the vet or technician will also determine the virus subtype (there are five). The specific subtype a cat possesses may determine its treatment options. Different vaccines also work against different subtypes of the virus.
Timelines for Negative and Positive Test Results
Because FIV is a slow-acting disease, it may not produce an immune response in infected cats for a considerable amount of time, understanding timelines for testing is important. There are also situations in which a test will produce a false negative or a false positive result. For this reason, multiple tests may be necessary to confirm the presence of FIV in a cat.
False Negative Test Results
If a cat has been exposed to the virus, it takes approximately 8 to 12 weeks for enough antibodies to show up for testing purposes. False negatives may occur during this interval if enough FIV antibodies have not been produced. It is usually advised that cats be tested a minimum of 60 days after it is believed they were exposed to the virus.
If a cat has advanced stage FIV, it may also test negative during a test. This is rare, however, and only occurs when the system is so compromised that the infected cats don’t produce enough antibodies.
False Positive Test Results
Cat mothers with FIV infection and their kittens present a unique phenomenon when it comes to testing. Kittens with FIV-positive mothers may test positive for FIV. While mothers with FIV infection can pass the virus on to their young, the opposite may also be true.
Kittens receive their mother’s antibodies through her milk. The presence of these antibodies may cause the kitten to test positive, even if the young cat hasn’t contracted the FIV infection. They are likely to grow up to be healthy cats with a quality of life.
This false-positive related to the mother’s antibodies may last for several months but usually stops after 6 months of age. For this reason, young FIV positive cats should be retested every 60 days or so until they are 6 months old. The transmission of the virus to kittens from their mother is rare.
A cat that has been vaccinated for FIV may also test positive. When a cat is given the FIV vaccine, it prompts the body to produce antibodies. During an antibody test, these antibodies may be confused for a natural antibody response. When testing a FIV infected cat, it is important to have their full vaccination record on hand if possible.
How to Treat FIV in Cats
Unfortunately, there is no cure for FIV and the immune complications that result from it. An FIV positive cat will have it for the rest of its life.
Because the virus is slow acting, it can take years for symptoms to arise in cats infected with FIV.
An FIV positive cat may live normally for many years before its health starts to deteriorate. It is also possible for FIV infected cats to experience periods of health interspersed with sickness.
There are few potential treatment options for infected cats with FIV. Humans treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) with special medications, some of which have been used on cats infected with FIV with limited success. Some of the semi-successful medications include AZT and interferon. There is also some anecdotal evidence that suggests primrose oil is helpful in the early stages for FIV infected cats.
How to Prevent FIV in Cats
Although the treatment options of FIV are limited, there are ways to prevent the disease in cats. Vaccination is one key component.
Vaccines that help cats fight against FIV are currently available, however, there are some risks associated with this vaccine. Cats who receive this vaccine, for example, have a higher risk of developing vaccine-associated-sarcoma (a type of cancer). Cat owners should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of vaccinating their cats with their vet.
Vaccines do not protect all cats against the virus, so taking other preventative measures is important. This is the only way to fully protect cats from FIV. Below are some of the precautions cat owners can take:
Keeping cat indoors: The primary mode of transmission for FIV is bite wounds from cats infected with FIV. This usually means outdoor cats with aggressive behaviors. Cat indoors generally have a longer lifespan than cats that live outdoors.
Only bringing FIV-negative cats into the home: If an uninfected cat is living alone or with other uninfected cats, owners should be careful when introducing new cats into the home. New cats should be tested for FIV before moving in with other cats.
Separating FIV positive cats from negative cats: If an owner does choose to home infected cats and uninfected cats, they should not be sharing food bowls and keep them in separate living areas. .
Cleaning spaces where an FIV positive cat has occupied
FIV cannot survive longer than a few hours on its own. However, it is still a good idea for cat owners to thoroughly clean any space that FIV infected cats have occupied. FIV positive cats may carry other infectious agents that could be dangerous to additional cats in the space. When cleaning a space, owners should:
- Replace or disinfect frequented items such as bedding, litter boxes, food and water bowls that the FIV positive may have used
- Cleaning and disinfecting floors and carpets in the FIV infected cat space. Vacuuming carpets and mopping hard surfaces are both good ideas.
Conclusion – FIV cats
Although FIV is rare for most cats, all cat owners or animal specialists should be knowledgeable on the subject. They should also take the proper steps to prevent exposures.
Lastly, owners of infected cats should remember that most FIV cats are capable of living long, happy quality of life.
Natural Immune Support & Supplements for Cats with FIV
Question: What is Feline Leukemia Virus? Are there any natural immune boosters, supplements, or holistic treatments that can support cats with FIV?
Answer: Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV, also called Feline AIDS), are dangerous, contagious diseases of cats. Both of these viruses are fairly “new” cat diseases; FeLV was first documented in the 1960’s, and FIV was discovered in domestic cats around 1975. Since then it has been found that many big cats (a high percentage of African lions, for instance) also harbor the FIV virus. However, in big cats, the disease seems to be benign and rarely causes overt signs. Contrary to what most people think, neither FeLV nor FIV are easy to transmit. Your indoor cat will not become infected by a sick cat sneezing through a screen door. For a cat to contract FeLV, it takes prolonged, close contact – the kind of contact you’d get with two cats living together, sharing bowls, and mutual grooming. FIV is transmitted almost exclusively through bite wounds. Kittens of infected mothers are typically infected through the mother’s blood or milk. Both FeLV and FIV are retroviruses similar to human AIDS. While an infected cat’s immune system is definitely compromised, making him more susceptible to other infections, there is no reason why the cat can’t live a long and reasonably healthy life with proper nutrition and support.
Both FeLV and FIV are found in 1½ to 3% of all cats in the U.S. The incidence of the disease has not changed significantly over the years. The actual rate of transmission between cats is not known. It is likely that many cats who are exposed to the disease never become persistently infected. In some cases the amount of exposure may not be enough to harm the cat, or the cat’s immune system is strong enough to fight it off. Before bringing a new kitten or cat into your home, it is essential to have it tested for FeLV and FIV, in order to know the level of protection you must provide for your resident cat(s). However, tests in a newly infected animal may be negative. It is recommended to re-test for FeLV at least one month after known or suspected exposure. For FIV, a re-check is recommended at least 60 days after a bite wound or if the cat’s FIV status is unknown. As many as 30% of positive FeLV and FIV tests are “false positives,” meaning that although the test is positive, the cat does not have the disease. Ideally, all positive results should be confirmed with a more sensitive test. Kittens must be 6-8 months of age before test results can be considered accurate. FIV is primarily transmitted by bite wounds. It affects mainly outdoor cats, and male cats much more frequently than females. The best prevention for FIV is to keep your cat indoors. There are vaccines available for both these diseases; however, they are not recommended by most experts. Both vaccines are the “killed” type, which carry the risk of causing cancer at the injection site, as well as other health issues associated with all vaccines. Please see our article, “What You Need to Know About Vaccinations,” in our Holistic Healthcare Library. Diseases like FeLV and FIV depend on a weak immune system to give them entry; a healthy adult cat is relatively resistant to the disease. To keep the immune system functioning optimally, a cat needs proper nutrition and appropriate supplementation.
When FeLV, and later, FIV, were first discovered, veterinarians recommended immediate euthanasia for any cat testing positive. Fortunately, we have learned much more about the disease since then.
Dr. Don Hamilton, veterinarian, homeopath, and author of Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs, says, “Of course, it is critical to remember that these viruses are primarily only a problem in immuno-suppressed cats. Keeping a cat healthy with good food, and avoidance of stressors, like vaccination, is more important for viruses like FeLV and FIV.” In other words, while these diseases are infectious and present in many environments, most healthy cats who are exposed will not get sick.””
Diagnosis of FeLV or FIV is not a death sentence. However, sensible precautions should be taken. Disease-positive cats should be kept strictly indoors to eliminate the risk of transmitting the disease to other cats through fighting, as well as to reduce exposure to secondary infections that could harm the cat.
These viruses primarily affect the immune system, which results in lowered resistance to infections. Like AIDS, there may be a long latent period where the cat is apparently healthy.
Because of their weakened immunity, many infected cats ultimately succumb to secondary viral or bacterial infections that would be relatively harmless in a normal cat.Because a stressed immune system is more prone to infection, keeping the cat’s stress level to a minimum is essential. Cats are territorial; the more cats in a household, the more stress is placed on each individual cat to maintain its position and boundaries. Proper hygiene is also critical. Extra special care should be taken to keep the environment (water and food bowls, litter boxes, bedding, toys, etc.) clean so that bacteria and other viruses can’t take advantage of the infected cat’s weaker immune system. Diluted household bleach (about 1 oz. of bleach to a gallon of water) is one of the best disinfectants known to man, and will kill virtually all infectious organisms. Retroviruses are not hardy, and do not live more than a few hours if exposed to the environment.
In addition to managing the environment, flower essences can be helpful to the FIV+ cat to enable him to cope with his environment and the disease. We recommend the Spirit Essence remedy, “Healthy Helper.”
It is important to support the immune system with good nutrition, stress management, and immune boosting treatments such as acupuncture and energy work. However, because the immune defenses of the infected cat may be weak or inadequate, we don’t recommend a raw meat diet as the first step toward improving nutrition. Homemade is best, but because of contamination problems in the meat-packing industry, it’s best to start out using cooked meat. As the cat becomes healthier, you can gradually transition to a raw diet if desired. If homemade isn’t an option for you, then wholesome, natural wet foods are fine. Dry food is undesirable because they are dehydrating; also, carbohydrates (including vegetables) are unnatural to the feline diet and put stress on the liver, pancreas, and immune system.
See our most powerful immune support supplements.
- Only Natural Pet Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil
- Nordic Naturals Pet Cod Liver Oil
Our Best Options for Stress & Anxiety Flower Essences are
- Spirit Essence Stress Stopper
- Pet Essences Immune System Booster Flower Essences
Many infected cats live normal lives and never show signs of the disease. However, once a cat develops symptoms, the odds are that, in spite of our best care, he will ultimately lose the battle against the disease. Love and supportive care are the best weapons in our arsenal, but even these cannot prevent the disease from running its course. Sadly, it is our responsibility as caretakers to consider what the end should be like. In many cases, these cats will suffer terribly before the disease itself ends the fight, and humane euthanasia is often the best option.
It’s important to determine ahead of time what the criteria will be for this decision. These may include: when the cat is not eating or drinking, or is hiding constantly, taking no interest in surroundings, not responding to affection—any signs that feel appropriate to you may be your signal that enough is enough, and it’s time for a peaceful and loving release. It is ultimately the greatest gift of love you can give.
CBD Oil for Cats
You’ve heard about the amazing benefits of CBD for dogs and humans, and you’re probably wondering – are there any benefits of CBD for cats?
Cat lovers will know that their cats’ health is a high priority for them. While we do know that cats have endocannabinoid systems, we don’t quite know enough about how CBD affects cats. Here’s what you need to know about giving your cat CBD.
Do cats have endocannabinoid systems?
Just like any other mammal, your cat has an endocannabinoid system within their body. This system consists of compounds, receptors, and enzymes that affect their organs and various processes in the body. The endocannabinoid system ensures that our bodies stay healthy and perfectly balanced, maintaining something called ‘homeostasis’.
We make some cannabinoids ourselves, but other cannabinoids are found in cannabis plants. This is why cannabis affects our bodies – it interacts with our endocannabinoid system, which in turn affects our mood, organs, and bodily processes.
Cannabinol – known as CBD – is one of the many cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. Another example of those cannabinoids is THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. While THC gets you ‘high’, CBD is non-intoxicating. So, no – CBD can’t get your cat high!
Research shows that CBD has the following benefits for dogs and humans:
- Reduces the frequency and severity of seizures
- Soothes inflammation
- Reduces allergies
- Reduces anxiety
- Soothes pain
- Promotes heart health
- Promotes skin health
However, there is no proof that it has those same benefits for cats. More and more research is being conducted on CBD every day, and hopefully in the future, we’ll know how it can benefit cats.
What does science say about CBD and cats?
Not much, unfortunately. There is little to no research about CBD and cats.
While we know that CBD is well-tolerated in dogs and humans, we actually don’t have any data showing that it’s safe for cats.
And while it seems to be safe for mammals – as mentioned, we all have endocannabinoid systems – we can’t exactly assume that it will work the same for cats. After all, citrus is poisonous to cats but not to dogs or humans. So who’s to say whether they’ll have a reaction to CBD?
Most vets admit that we know little to nothing about CBD and cats. However, some vets do approve of the use of CBD on cats, and they say that there are health benefits of CBD for cats similar to the benefits for dogs.
According to online testimonials, people use CBD to treat the following conditions in their cats:
- Pain (including recovery from operations)
- Skin conditions (including itchy and dry skin)
- Anxiety and stress
- Spraying issues (that is, ‘marking’ their territory inside the house)
Some people give CBD to their cats who have progressed FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus, also known as ‘feline HIV’) to soothe their pain and discomfort.
Which CBD oil should I buy for my cat?
Firstly, it’s important to give your animal high-quality CBD. While it’s tempting to buy from the cheapest seller, your pet deserves the best.
Do your research and buy CBD from a reputable brand. Read reviews online. Ideally, you should buy from a brand that has third-party testing to ensure that their products are high quality – and if their website doesn’t make it clear, email them to ask.
Unfortunately, as these FDA warning letters from 2015 reveal, not all CBD companies are above board. Multiple companies – including companies that produced CBD-infused products for pets – faced legal difficulties when the FDA found that their products contained little to no CBD at all. So, rather fork out for good quality.
One high-quality, reputable company is Holistapet, which sells CBD products that were specially developed for cats:
Many cat lovers use dog-friendly CBD for their cats. If you’d like to do this, just check the ingredients to ensure that none of the ingredients are toxic to cats. Feel free to email the manufacturer to ask.
How do I give my cat CBD?
If you’re desperate, you might decide to give your CBD anyway. In this case, it’s important to be aware If you want to give your cat CBD, it is essential that you speak to your vet first. Your vet might be able to advise you when it comes to deciding the dosage and the brand of CBD you should use.
Dosage is essential when it comes to CBD. Cats, being small, need only a small amount of CBD. Just 0.1 milligrams per kilogram of your cat should suffice for a small adult cat that hasn’t yet had CBD. You can increase it to 0.5 milligrams gradually – increasing by 0.1 or 0.2 a week is a good idea. Be sure to measure it out carefully – a tiny syringe can be helpful.
Cats are smart, and it’s not always easy to get them to take their medication. You have a few options when it comes to giving them CBD:
- Try mixing it into wet food, tuna, sardines, or whatever else they enjoy eating.
- Add some to their favorite treats.
- If your cat is easy when it comes to taking medication, open their mouth and drop a little into their mouth with a dropper.
- Use a topical CBD treatment if you want to treat a localized area for pain (for example, a sore leg). Bear in mind that cats lick themselves, so it might be best to put them in an Elizabethan collar so that the CBD has a chance to soak in.
If your cat seems to have a negative reaction to CBD, take them to the vet immediately. Tell the vet exactly what symptoms they had, and what kind of CBD you gave them.
Unfortunately, we know too little about how CBD affects cats to recommend it as a remedy. Hopefully, in the future, research will tell us how we can use CBD to enhance our cats’ health. We strongly advise you to talk to a vet before giving your cat CBD.