Having a vet say your pet is infected with FIV may sound terrifying for a cat-parent, but the disease is much less dire than you may think. According to Cornell University, there are up to 3% of seemingly healthy cats infected in the U.S.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a retrovirus, in the same family as the cause of AIDS in humans. But good news – it’s species-specific, meaning humans and other animals can’t catch it. There’s little need to worry about other cats in the household either, they won’t catch it by sharing food bowls or physical contact. The most common way for a cat to be infected is by a deep bite from by a free-roaming, aggressive, male cat.

A blood test by your vet can show if your cat has the FIV. It takes 2-8 weeks for the test results from the initial infection to show if a cat has the disease. This is a show-acting virus, so it can take years for an infected cat to display symptoms.

Now, here are some symptoms to look for:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Abnormal appearance or inflammation of the eye, gums, or mouth
  • Skin redness or hair loss
  • Wounds that don’t heal
  • Discharge from eyes or nose
  • Frequent or straining to urinate, urinating outside of litter box
  • Poor coat condition
  • Persistent fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent diarrhea

It’s important for an FIV cat to have a heathy diet and be kept free from parasites since there are no proven treatments for FIV, itself. Any secondary infections will need immediate treatment and a vet may recommend fluid/eletrolyte replacement therapy, anti-inflammatory or immune enhancing drugs .

There is a vaccine but there’s considerable disagreement on it’s use. A vaccinated cat will show a false positive for FIV in any blood test for life. Some shelters euthanize cats testing positive for the disease.

Here are recommended ways to protect your cats from FIV:

  • Keep indoors
  • Watch for changes in behavior
  • Have cats checked by vet when taken for wellness checkup
  • Feed nutritionally balanced food
  • Had cat spayed or neutered

The really good news is that a cat with FIV can live a long, healthy life – and continue to hang out with the rest of the fur and non-fur family!

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