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    • 15 Sep, 2016

    What Is FIV and How Can We Prevent It?

    We asked The Mayhew’s Chief Vet, Dr Ursula Goetz, MRCVS, GPCert (SAS) to explain what Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is and how you can help prevent it spreading among the UK cat population.

    What is FIV?

    Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a viral infection in cats, usually present in the saliva. It infects cells of the immune system, killing or damaging them, so they can’t perform their usual functions. Once infected, the cat will have the virus for life. To begin with the infection can cause mild signs of disease so it may go unnoticed. Infected cats often can live a healthy life with good quality of life, however after several years (average 2-5 years) the virus will severely weaken the immune system and cause the cat to be more susceptible to other infections and diseases.

    Photo credit: Rowan Williams Photography

    Photo credit: Rowan Williams Photography

    How is it spread?

    FIV is usually spread through saliva from a bite wound from an infected cat. It is most common in areas where cats are living in a stressful environment such as overcrowded conditions where the likelihood of cat fights is higher. It is about twice as common in male cats as female, especially those that are unneutered, and it usually occurs around the ages of 5-10 years.

    What are the symptoms?

    The virus can cause many different symptoms and can affect all parts of the body, from losing weight to brain damage. Symptoms include:

    • Weight loss and poor appetite
    • Diarrhoea
    • Recurrent fever
    • Lethargy
    • Enlarged lymph nodes
    • Inflammation of the gums and mouth
    • Wounds that don’t heal
    • Chronic skin disease or hair loss
    • Chronic or recurrent respiratory, ocular (eyes) and intestinal disease
    • Neurological disease


    Is it treatable?

    Unfortunately, the virus is permanent and there is no specific treatment or cure. If you suspect your cat has FIV take them to your vet immediately. Be prepared to list any symptoms you have noticed and the vet will perform a blood test to make a diagnosis.

    Can it be managed?

    Many cats with FIV are able to live for years without any signs of disease. However, the main thing to remember is that the spread of the infection needs to be prevented as much as possible. If you have an FIV cat, you should keep them indoors or in an enclosed garden so they are not able to come into contact with other cats. Make sure you also get them neutered as this reduces the risk of fighting and feed them a nutritionally balanced diet. Don’t feed your cat any raw foods such as uncooked meat or eggs as the parasites and bacteria present could be dangerous for an infected cat.

    Meet Magnum

    magnum FIV

    Magnum, a large 3-year-old tomcat, arrived as a stray at The Mayhew recently with a nasty bite wound on his left front paw. He was not neutered and since he appeared to have been fighting, our vet team suspected he may be FIV+. A quick blood test revealed this was the case. We patched him up, neutered and microchipped him and he is now patiently waiting to find his forever home. This lovable boy will need to be an indoor cat because of the virus but he will be able to live a long, happy life with the right owner.

    If you could give Magnum a home, please click here.

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