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! 



The Sweetest “Caution” Dog Ever Who Just Happens to Have Heartworms (Dirofilaria immitis)

Pitbull - Kim

Image via Wikipedia

The perks of working at a vet hospital when you have a science based blog, is that it’s really hard to run out of material. At the moment, we have a pit bull waiting for adoption who is reported to be dog and cat aggressive and is also heartworm positive. He’s probably the sweetest dog ever (imagine the dog in the picture, only black), he just doesn’t seem to know how strong he is, which he displayed this morning by jumping all over me.

I’m sure most people have heard about heartworms and that they’re dangerous to our pet’s health but people may not know just how much.

– Scientific Classification –

Dirofilaria immitis is the canine form of heartworm, with other definitive hosts being wild canids and ferrets. Cats are an abnormal host. The worms are long and thin and the females can reach 28 cm. Adult worms are found mostly in pulmonary arteries and also in the righthand portion of the heart. There is a 6 month prepatent period with a minimum of 2 weeks inside the mosquito (who serves as the vector). Adult worms can live for 5 years.

Some cases of heartworms can be asymptomatic. Mild to moderate disease can result in a chronic cough and decreased exercise tolerance. Moderate to severe cases can lead to syncope (fainting), hemoptysis (coughing up blood), pulmonary hypertension, right heart enlargement and failure.

Diagnosis is based on an antigen test (for adult females), which is the most sensitive option. A dog can be tested after the 6 month prepatent period or just prescribed a preventative. Preventatives that can be prescribed are macrolides and are a monthly product. They kill heartworms acquired in the previous month.

The pit bull in our care doesn’t seem too bothered by his disease as of late. Hopefully he gets adopted by someone who can handle him soon!

Also, an update on the Old English Sheepdog :: she wasn’t in the treatment room when I worked today so hopefully she went home and is feeling better!

:: Information from this post is from my notes from an Introductory Parasitology class taught by Dr. Zajac at Virginia Tech ::

Parasite Terminology