One of the first questions that a client often asks after their feline pet tests positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is if their cat has AIDs. Then of course the second one is whether or not it is contagious to them. As previously stated there has been no evidence linking animal infection to humans. While a positive Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Test (FIV) does indicate virus contact, it does not mean that your cat has AIDS. However, it is important to recognize the symptoms associated with this disease. FIV can affect many organ systems. Similar to people, dental diseases such as gingivitis and stomatitis (oral ulcers) often occur. Upper respiratory diseases such as sinusitis also can be a sign of FIV infection though pneumonia as occurs in humans are much less common. Ocular diseases such as corneal inflammation and conjunctivitis are also frequently seen in pets that may be developing AIDS. Various hematological (blood count) abnormalities may also occur. Since Feline Immunodeficiency Virus suppresses the body’s immune system and ability to respond to challenges, illnesses that occur are usually a direct result of the cat’s inability to fight off disease.
How then do we deal with FIV and in some cases feline AIDS? First step is prevention. Indoor cats as well as cats that are not exposed to outdoor cats are at a far less risk then outdoor exposed cats. If your pet will be going out or if any cat in the house will be venturing outdoors, then all of your feline population should be immunized. Prior to vaccination, it is important that an FIV test is performed. Vaccination does not lead to disease but will result in a (false) positive by some tests at a later date. Therefore it is imperative to know the FIV status of your pet before immunization. If your pet should test postive initally then vaccination for FIV is not recommended. Inital vaccination requires a series of injections with a booster given once yearly.
If your pet should test positive prior to immunization it is an indication that your pet has been exposed to FIV. Additional testing can be performed to determine if your cat is currently contagious, but regardless any feline that tests positive on any test should then be confined to the indoors for the duration of his or her life. Occasionally a positive testing patient will revert to negative in the future but that is the exception rather than the rule. In the event that you have a pet that tests positive, steps should be taken to ensure that your cat leads a somewhat protected indoor life to minimize exposure to infections that can lead to serious disease as a result of his or her possible immune incompetence. FIV is not a death sentence. Many cats live very normal healthy lives after being diagnosed with this virus. However, you as a caretaker of your feline freind should always be on alert to look for any evidence of the slightest symptom and then consult your local vet. FIV is a serious disease in cats. With proper steps prevention is possible and always the goal. However supportive care can be very beneficial in helping an affected pet live out a nearly normal life.