Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

When working at the vet hospital, one of my favorite things is caring for the “Fantastic Four”. They are the quartet of kittens in the fancy setup in reception waiting to be adopted. There are 2 orange ones (my favorite color on cats), a tortoiseshell, and gorgeous tabby. They are sweet little bundles of energy that always attempt to escape when I have to clean out the cage. During the down time, I try to snuggle with at least one of them so they don’t turn into little demons.

Now the only thing that may affect their adoption is that they all tested mildly positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). They’re only about 4 months old and false positives can occur so they will be retested around 6 months.

FIV is a slow virus (lentivirus) and cats may appear normal for several years. Eventually the immune system may break down leading to greater susceptibility and a worse reaction to common illnesses or infections. Bite wounds are the primary source of transmission, with casual contact seemingly inefficient. Rarely, kittens can acquire infection from their mothers during passage through the birth canal or ingesting infected milk. The disease isn’t often spread by sexual contact.

The virus reproduces in nearby lymph nodes before spreading throughout the body to other lymph nodes. This leads to enlargement of the nodes and fever. According to a page on the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine the following are other symptoms that may occur in cats years after infection:

  • Poor coat condition and persistent fever with a loss of appetite are commonly seen.
  • Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and mouth (stomatitis) and chronic or recurrent infections of the skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract are often present.
  • Persistent diarrhea can also be a problem, as can a variety of eye conditions.
  • Slow but progressive weight loss is common, followed by severe wasting late in the disease process.
  • Various kinds of cancer and blood diseases are much more common in cats infected with FIV, too.
  • In unspayed female cats, abortion of kittens or other reproductive failures have been noted.
  • Some infected cats experience seizures, behavior changes, and other neurological disorders.

(The page also describes diagnosis of the disease if you’re interested.)

Hopefully upon retesting, those sweet kittens will be negative for FIV. The next step from there is adoption!