What is FIV?
FIV stands for feline immunodeficiency virus, just as HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The average life expectancy from the time of diagnosis for FIV is 5 years. Humans cannot be infected with FIV; FIV is a cats-only infection.
FIV is tested by completing an inhouse simple blood test. If we need to confirm this we can send a sample to the laboratory also for PCR testing. Vaccinations can sometimes cause the test to have a “false positive.”
If your cat tests negative for FIV, it can be vaccinated! This involves initially three boosters 2-4 weeks apart and then an annual booster. We particularly recommend this if your cat goes outside or has exposure to FIV positive cats.
How did my cat get infected?
The major route of virus transmission is by the deep bite wounds that occur during fighting. There are other means of spreading the virus but they are less common. Mother cats cannot readily infect their kittens except in the initial stages of her infection. FIV can be transmitted sexually and through improperly screened blood transfusions. Casual contact such as sharing food bowls or snuggling is unlikely to transmit the virus.
Isolation of an FIV+ cat is not necessary in a stable household unless the FIV+ cat is likely to fight with the other residents.
Keep your Cat Indoors Only
Now that you know your cat has an infectious disease, the responsible thing is to prevent the spread of this disease in your community. This means that your cat will need to be an indoor cat. Cats who are used to living outdoors will make a fuss about being allowed outside. It is crucial that you do not give in as this will simply reinforce the crying and fussing. If you just allow the fussing to run its course, it will cease and the cat will get used to the new indoor only life. If this continues to be of concern please speak to your vet about additional management to get your cat used to their new indoor life.
Outdoor cat enclosures can be erected to ensure your cat still has access to outside without the opportunity to spread FIV.
Avoid raw foods
There are currently numerous fad diets involving raw foods for pets. With an FIV+ cat, it is crucial not to succumb to these popular recommendations. Uncooked foods, especially meats, can include parasites and pathogens that a cat with a normal immune system might be able to handle, but which an FIV+ cat might not. Stick to the major reputable cat food brands.
F3 Vaccinations should be continued for these cats just as they are for other cats. Some experts prefer killed vaccines because of the concern that modified live vaccines might revert to the virulent form in which it can cause disease. This has not panned out as a problem in reality; also, the killed vaccines have been associated with vaccine-associated fibrosarcomas, an additional problem an FIV+ cat does not need.
The last thing an FIV+ cat needs is fleas, worms or mites, especially now that they are going to be an indoor cat. There are numerous effective products on the market for parasite control. Consult with your veterinarian about which parasites you should be especially concerned with and which product is right for them.
Immune stimulating agents
There are numerous products on the market claiming to stimulate the immune system of an FIV+ cat. These include Acemannan, levamisole, ImmunoRegulin®, and interferon alpha. None of these products have been shown definitively to be helpful though it appears that they certainly do not do any harm. Interferon alpha can help asymptomatic cats as it is relatively inexpensive and anecdotally it seems to help. Interferon alpha is used in an extremely dilute form (not the much higher doses used against viruses) and it is used as a salty liquid added to the cat’s food or a pill given on a daily basis.
A newer product that is a lymphocyte T-cell immunomodulator, has been released. This product will increase lymphocyte counts, especially the helper T cells that are so important to immune function. There are other effects as well that may be helpful. The product is given weekly for the first month, then every other week and then monthly as an injection. It is recommended that blood cell counts be performed monthly in cats with low lymphocyte or red blood cell counts. While this sounds like good news, keep in mind that this is a new product and clinical trials have not been published.
Oxidative stress is rather a long story and it has been implicated in the development of cancer, in age-related degeneration, and in other diseases. In short, oxidative stress stems from reactive oxygen compounds that our metabolism generates. The oxygen compounds are able to damage DNA unless they are scavenged (rendered harmless) by either the natural antioxidant systems of our bodies or by antioxidant supplements we take in pills. Oxidative stress has been implicated in the progression of HIV infection in humans and it has been extrapolated that the same is true of FIV infection in cats. A 2008 study by Webb et al published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery looked at an antioxidant called Superoxide Dismutase in FIV cats and found an improvement in the CD4+ to CD8+ ratio in supplemented cats. This is a promising finding though cats were only followed for a 30-day period, which indicates that further studies may show more substantial clinical benefit. What this all means is that oral antioxidant supplementation may be helpful in keeping FIV+ cats healthy. While the jury is still out as to how significant a treatment this is likely to become, it is certainly clear that antioxidant supplementation may be beneficial on a number of planes and may be worth a try.
While a non-geriatric FIV- cat should have an annual examination, the FIV+ cat should have a check-up twice a year. Annually, a full blood panel and urinalysis is a good idea. Also, it is important to be vigilant of any changes in an FIV+ cat. Small changes that one might not think would be significant in an FIV-negative cat should probably be thoroughly explored in an FIV+ cat. Because of their compromised immune function they are unable to cope with mild health assaults such as wounds or viruses so will require prompt veterinary attention.
THE FELINE IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS IS NOT TRANSMISSIBLE TO HUMANS
The Immune-suppressed owner
Immune-suppressed cats and immune-suppressed owners do not mix well. Those who are immune suppressed, be they human or non-human, are inclined to become infected with opportunistic organisms and in turn shed larger numbers of those organisms than someone might naturally come into contact with in the environment. This means that someone, human or otherwise, who is immune-suppressed amplify infectious agents. An immune-suppressed cat can increase an immune-suppressed human’s exposure to infectious agents and vice versa. This is obviously not a good situation. The same is true for multiple immune-suppressed cats living together. If possible, there should be only one immune-suppressed individual per home.