FIV, or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, is a transmissible viral disease of cats where the immune system is suppressed and the cat becomes more susceptible to infections that most normal cats can resist. Like a person with HIV, a cat can be infected with FIV for quite some time and enjoy a good quality before, if ever, developing full-blown disease. A recent study even suggests that cats who are well cared for — providing them with consistent good nutrition, protection from stress and infectious disease, and routine veterinary care to manage secondary conditions — are likely to enjoy prolonged survival, even if infected with FIV.
The good news is that FIV is not very readily spread. The main route of transmission is through deep bites and NOT through casual contact. Transmission to kittens at time of birth has been experimentally reported, though in nature this appears to be extremely uncommon. Kittens born to FIV positive mothers are at low risk for infection, although they may test positive initially due to the presence of maternal antibodies. Similarly to FeLV, there is no cure for FIV, and cats with this disease are vulnerable to some secondary infections due to a suppressed immune system. One of the most common issues seen with FIV cats is stomatitis or oral inflammation. Stomatitis can be painful and often your veterinarian will recommend a thorough dental cleaning and the potential extraction of the teeth. While this may seem extreme, many cats improve significantly after this procedure.
As FIV is rarely spread through casual contact, cats may live together for years without transmitting the disease. However, care must be taken when a new cat is introduced due to the risk of bites. Introduction of an FIV positive cat to a household with FIV negative cats (or vice versa) therefore poses a moderate risk of disease transmission. Historically, FIV cats were separated from non-infected cats, newer approaches indicate that adopters may choose to house FIV-infected cats with uninfected cats if cats are neutered and show no signs of aggression since the risk of transmission appears to be very low.
A vaccine is available for FIV but it is not 100% effective and is not routinely administered. The vaccine is not recommended for cats that are at very low risk for contracting the disease, such as strictly indoor cats. Owners and their veterinarian should decide whether the vaccine is appropriate in each circumstance. (University of California Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program)
Information About FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus)
FeLV, or Feline Leukemia Virus, is a contagious, viral disease of cats. FeLV is most commonly spread via the saliva of infected cats, but can also be present in urine and feces. FeLV can be spread from mother to kitten during delivery, but spread via nursing or grooming is more common. Airborne transmission of the disease is not a concern. Blood tests are available for screening for FeLV. A cat may initially test positive for FeLV, and then recover and test negative at a later date. The good news is that in most healthy cat populations, FeLV is quite uncommon.
In addition to causing leukemia, as the name implies, FeLV has been associated with immune suppression leading to increased susceptibility to various infectious diseases and some cancers. Kittens are at significantly higher risk for contracting the disease than adult cats, which is why we test each Hermitage kitten for the virus. Infected kittens may have several years of good quality life before developing signs of disease, and some individual cats may live much longer. Treatment consists of good nourishment, routine veterinary care, and protection from infection/management of secondary conditions. There is no cure for FeLV, but with good care, some of these cats will beat the odds and lead long, healthy lives.
A vaccine is available for FeLV. The current recommendation is to vaccinate as kittens and then repeat at one year. The vaccine is not recommended for cats that are at very low risk for contracting the disease, such as strictly indoor cats. Owners and their veterinarian should decide whether the vaccine is appropriate in each circumstance. (University of California Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program)