Feline immunodeficiency virus is more commonly called FIV or sometimes feline AIDS. It is a contagious viral disease that infects cats. The virus is similar in nature to the virus that causes AIDS or HIV in people. However, you cannot get AIDS from your cat. FIV only infects cats and HIV only infects people.
How Is It Spread?
Your cat may be at risk for FIV if he socializes frequently with other cats. FIV is most commonly spread through wounds from cat fights. Some veterinarians believe that FIV may also be spread through sexual contact with an infected cat, but there is disagreement about this.
If infected blood is used in giving your cat a blood transfusion, your cat can become infected. On rare occasions, a mother cat can pass the disease to her kittens, especially if she has recently become infected.
However, FIV is not usually passed through sharing food dishes or water bowls, or when cats sleep together in the same place or groom each other.
Which Cats Are Most Likely to Be at Risk?
Some cats are more likely to become infected with FIV than others. Cats that go outside and fight with other cats are at risk of infection. So are intact male cats that are more likely to fight with other cats and are thus at higher risk of infection.
How Is It Diagnosed?
FIV is normally diagnosed through a blood test known as an ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test. If the ELISA test is positive, your veterinarian will advise a second blood test, called a Western Blot, to confirm the infection.
What Are the Signs?
Many cats that test positive for FIV seem perfectly healthy. If your cat tests positive, it means that he has been exposed to the virus. It also means that he can pass the virus to other cats but, in reality, this does not seem to happen often unless your cat fights with others.
Even if your cat has a positive blood test for FIV, he may remain healthy for years. However, it is important to watch him for signs of disease. The FIV virus damages your cat's immune system and makes him more likely to get other types of infections.
Some signs that might indicate that your cat has FIV include:
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Pale or yellow gums (icterus)
- Runny eyes or nose
- Easily infected wounds
- Sores in his mouth