When the majority of people think of AIDS
visions of emancipated sick humans come to mind. Many do not realize that such a disease can affect animals as well. One of the animals most susceptible to AIDS is the domesticated cat.
Cats with Feline AIDS are said to be FIV+. FIV, which stands for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, is the equivalent to HIV. Like the human virus, FIV interferes with the cat’s immune system. Once the immune system is weakened the cat becomes susceptible to all forms of infections. The medical term for this is called immunosuppression.
There are three stages to Feline AIDS. The first is called the acute stage. In the acute stage, the cat experiences mild fever, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, and anemia. In layman’s terms, this means the cat will have a dry nose, puffiness around the throat area, a messy and smelly litter box, excessive thirst, and low hemoglobin levels. (Hemoglobin is the protein matter in the blood that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Hemoglobin also removes the carbon dioxide [the gaseous substance all mammals exhale] from the bodily tissues. Low hemoglobin levels mean low energy levels due to the lack of transportation of oxygen through [in this case] the cat’s body.)
The second stage is the latent stage. This means that there is great potential for more serious side effects. The infected cat is still carrying the virus, but its effects are non-existent. A cat, if well cared for, can live for years before the final stage developers. Death of a cat in the latent stage of Feline AIDS is usually due to old age and natural causes.
Special care must be taken with the health of an FIV+ cat in the latent stage. The cat must be kept indoors and away from any type of sick animal. Vaccinations need to be kept up to date. Regular visits to the local veterinarian must be made in order to watch for any progression of the illness.
The final stage is called the chronic stage. As the name suggests, this is the last and deadly stage of Feline AIDS. This phase of the disease is similar to Human AIDS. In this last stage, the cat’s immune system is completely destroyed. The animal can no longer resist infection, contracts various diseases, becomes violently ill, and dies. This is a long and painful process. At this point, death is often a welcome end to a tortured life.
So are all cats at risk of contracting this terrible disease? What can cat owners and feline lovers do to protect these fuzzy creatures?
To begin to answer these questions it needs to be stated that not all cats are susceptible to contracting Feline AIDS. Un-neutered male cats, which are kept outdoors, are at the greatest risk of contracting this virus. The reasons for this are quite simple. Un-neutered male cats are extremely territorial. This strong need to mark their own boundaries causes them to be more aggressive. An aggressive animal is more likely to become engaged in fights with other animals. Un-neutered male cats will fight other male cats in an attempt to protect their own domains. The virus is then spread through the saliva and blood contact that occurs with biting and scratching.
Although male un-neutered male cats are at a higher risk of becoming FIV+, female cats (spayed or non-spayed) are not immune to this disease. They can contract the virus from male cats during mating. The actual act of mating has not been proven to be the cause of this. The cause is that at times male cats will bite and scratch during mating. As mentioned before, the virus is spread once saliva, and blood contact is made.
Female FIV infection has been recorded (although rarely) to occur during the birth of a litter. There is no transferring of blood or saliva, but sometimes the kittens can be born in a location where fighting once occurred. The umbilical cord becomes infected with the virus that is then transferred to the mother cat during the after-birth cleanup. (“After-birth cleanup” is a euphemism for saying that she eats the umbilical cord.) This theory has not been well documented, and only a tiny amount of literature was found concerning this idea.
The next concern cat-lovers may have is in regard to their own health, the health of their families’ or the health of other pets. It is important to remember that Feline AIDS is not transferable to other cats by sharing food and dishes or by cat-to-cat grooming. It is only transferable by blood and saliva contact through openings in the body (cuts, mouth, eyes, etc). It is not transferable in any manner to humans or to other animals. This strain of the AIDS virus is unique to cats.
FIV is more common than most people think. It is surprising to discover how few know about this illness. The best way to prevent a loved cat from contracting this virus is to keep him/her indoors and out of harm's way.
If you have further questions concerning Feline AIDS, contact your nearest veterinarian.