DID YOU KNOW THAT CATS CAN CARRY FIV (FELINE AIDS) & FELV (FELINE LEUKEMIA)?

Feline Aids (FIV)

FIV can attack the immune system of cats, much like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can attack the immune system of human beings.  FIV can be tolerated well by cats, but can eventually lead to debilitation of the immune system in its feline hosts. However, humans cannot be infected by FIV, nor can cats be infected by HIV. FIV is transmitted primarily through bite wounds, such as those incurred during territorial battles between males. Cats housed exclusively indoors are much less likely to be infected, provided they do not come in contact with infected cats.

A vigilant pet owner who treats secondary infections can assist an infected cat to live a reasonably long life. The chance that an FIV infected cat will pass the disease on to other cats within a household remains, and increases with serious fighting or biting. There is a quantifiable risk that cats living outside of a home can spread the disease to others and can also spread the disease in a group setting in a shelter. Cats living alone as a single pet, rarely left to roam free, pose a diminished but not non-existent risk.

The primary modes of FIV transmission are deep bite wounds and scratches, where the infected cat’s blood-tainted saliva enters the other cat’s bloodstream. FIV may also be transmitted from pregnant females to their offspring in utero, however this vertical transmission is considered to be relatively rare based on the small number of FIV-infected kittens and adolescents. This differs from FeLV, which may be spread by more casual, non-aggressive contact since the virus is also present at mucus membranes, so casual contact cannot be ruled out as a potential transmission. Risk factors for infection are being of the male sex, adulthood, and outdoor access. Higher rates of infection in males than females makes sense because the primary means of transmission is from biting and most instances of biting in cats occur in fights over territory, an activity more common for males than females.

Feline Leukemia (FeLV)

Although many of the diseases caused by FeLV and FIV are similar, the specific ways in which they are caused differs. Cats persistently infected with FeLV serve as sources of infection. Virus is shed in very high quantities in saliva and nasal secretions, but also in urine, feces, and milk from infected cats. Cat-to-cat transfer of virus may occur from a bite wound, during mutual grooming, and (though rarely) through the shared use of litter boxes and feeding dishes. Transmission can also take place from an infected mother cat to her kittens, either before they are born or while they are nursing. FeLV doesn’t survive long outside a cat’s body—probably less than a few hours under normal household conditions.

Feline leukemia virus adversely affects the cat’s body in many ways. It is the most common cause of cancer in cats, it may cause various blood disorders, and it may lead to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat’s ability to protect itself against other infections. The same bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi that may be found in the everyday environment—where they usually do not affect healthy animals—can cause severe illness in those with weakened immune systems. These secondary infections are responsible for many of the diseases associated with FeLV.

During the early stages of infection, it is common for cats to exhibit no signs of disease at all. However, over time—weeks, months, or even years—the cat’s health may progressively deteriorate or be characterized by recurrent illness interspersed with periods of relative health. Signs can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Slow but progressive weight loss, followed by severe wasting late in the disease process
  • Poor coat condition
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Persistent fever
  • Pale gums and other mucus membranes
  • Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and mouth (stomatitis)
  • Infections of the skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Seizures, behavior changes, and other neurological disorders
  • A variety of eye conditions
  • In unspayed female cats, abortion of kittens or other reproductive failures