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Get the facts about FIV

Cats are delicate animals that make great pets. Individuals who choose to open their hearts to feline companions should know many things about how a cat operates. In addition, cat owners should know about potential diseases that can affect cats, including feline immunodeficiency virus. or FIV.

FIV is commonly referred to as feline AIDS because it is a condition very similar to the disease that afflicts humans. Essentially, FIV is a widespread viral infection that preys on the immune system of cats. It is caused by the same type of Lentiviruses that trigger AIDS in people.

FIV devastates a cat's immune system, making the animal unable to combat other common diseases and infections. It is often these secondary diseases that prove fatal. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, approximately 1 to 3 percent of healthy cats are infected with FIV in the United States. The virus is passed most often through bite wounds and scratches. Therefore, outdoor cats have a greater risk of infection than indoor ones.

Stages of Infection

FIV has a few different stages it goes through before the cat may become visibly ill.

1. After the virus enters the bloodstream, it can cause infections, fever and swollen lymph nodes

2. Stage 2 is generally the dormant stage, and many cats appear as if they're completely healthy. This stage can last for months or years.

3. The final stage is the "terminal" stage. The cat may suffer from diseases that are often chronic and turn out to be fatal in one year. Complications may include anemia, infections of the gums and mouth, cancer and skin disorders. The cat may also suffer neurological problems that cause seizures, problems maintaining balance and dementia, as well as behavioral changes like inappropriate elimination.

Prevention

There is no cure for FIV, so the best way to keep a cat healthy is to prevent initial infection. It is important to keep the cat inside with other FIV-negative cats. Before introducing a new cat to the household, it should receive a diagnostic test. Kittens can contract FIV from an infected mother through birthing or from drinking its mother's milk. So kittens should not be exempt from FIV testing.

Testing

Vets will conduct an initial test to see if there are any positive FIV antibodies. False positives are common, so the vet may conduct a separate test later on to try to confirm the results.

There are some medications that can help treat the secondary illnesses that result from FIV. As the cat's immune system deteriorates, more aggressive treatment may be needed. Vets often engage in a long-term management plan for dealing with FIV.

To learn more about FIV, consult with your veterinarian.