Cats can contract immune deficiency
Cats can be infected with an immune system deficiency known as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV. The virus first was identified in 1986.
FIV is not to be confused with HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus. They are two distinct viruses and cannot be passed from one species to the other.
A sick cat recently was brought to Veterinarian Jessica Lauren of Animal Health Clinic of Marion County and was diagnosed with FIV.
The feline was an intact male, which is the kind of cat she typically finds with the virus. It is spread through fluid exchange such as biting with the passage of blood.
When a female does show up with the virus, it’s usually a cat that has kittens, Lauren said.
Keep cats safe
She said a pet owner could keep the pet if it’s healthy, but needs to protect it to keep it from getting sick.
A responsible owner also will keep the cat inside to prevent it from having contact with other felines, especially at night, she said.
She said the cat may stay healthy for a while but eventually will get sick and probably will have to be euthanized.
If an FIV-infected cat is brought to her already sick, she advises the owner the humane thing to do is to put it down.
There is a vaccine for FIV, but it is expensive and is not guaranteed to work, Lauren said, so local veterinarians don’t use it.
Norman Galle, veterinarian at Hillsboro Animal Clinic, mostly treats large animals, but he saw a rash of FIV cases a month ago, he said.
Usually the cats are sick when they are diagnosed with the virus.
He said that whether the owner gets the pet treated for a secondary bacterial infection and takes it back home depends on the condition of the cat and the environment it lives in.
“Some cases are terminal, some are not as advanced,” he said. “Whatever the case may be, it’s never a good outcome.”
He advises anyone who decides to retain an infected cat to keep the pet away from other cats.
Veterinarian Brendan Kraus of Spur Ridge Vet Hospital in Florence said he recommends that people who get new kittens or cats have them tested for FIV before exposing them to other cats.
He estimates about 10 percent of sick cats brought to his clinic have the FIV virus.
“FIV is a lot like HIV,” he said. “It suppresses the immune system, but cats can live with it for a long time and may or may not die from it.”
Last modified Aug. 20, 2009