The complex retrovirus found in domestic cats is an infectious disease known as feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV for short. When the body has the inability to develop a normal immune response, immunodeficiency is the medical term that is used to describe this condition. Feline immunodeficiency virus does not quickly reveal itself. The virus may lie dormant in the body for long periods of time before causing any symptoms of the lentivirus. FIV falls within the same class of viruses that cause HIV in humans, which of course, is the free cursor to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, known as AIDS in humans.
Although it is possible that genetics may play a role in how fast or severe the disease may progress, there is no direct genetic susceptibility to this infection. Diagnosis is usually discovered around five years of age, with the likelihood of increased infection with age. FIV can be transmitted between cats. Usually this transmission occurs between males, this is because of their aggressive tendencies. Also male cats are more likely to roam, which increases the likelihood of being exposed to the virus.
There are a multitude of symptoms that may indicate that your cat has developed FIV.
It is not possible to clinically determine whether other associated immunodeficiency’s, such as feline leukemia virus, are responsible for your feline condition. Because there are so many diverse symptoms related to the disease causing the inability to develop a normal immune response, FIV can be difficult to diagnose.
- There may be multiple minor illnesses, likely of an upper respiratory or gastrointestinal nature.
- In approximately 25% to 50% of all cases, there will be inflammation of the gums and the surrounding tissue that support the teeth.
- Lymph nodes may be mild to moderately enlarged.
- 30% of the cases involve upper respiratory tract disease – this would include inflammation of the nose, inflammation of moist tissue around the eye, and even inflammation of the cornea, which is often associated with calicivirus infections and feline herpes.
- There may be eye disease present, such as glaucoma, which is an increased pressure within the eye, or inflammation of the iris and the front part of the eye.
- Long-term kidney insufficiency may be a symptom.
- 10% to 20% of cases report ongoing diarrhea.
- Often there will be recurrent infections of the external ear and skin, which lead to fungal and bacterial infections. These are often long-term and nonresponsive.
- In the later stage of the disease, fever and wasting are often present.
- Cancer can be an indication of FIV. Lymphoma, a cancer that develops from lymphoid tissue, may occur throughout the body.
- Nervous system abnormalities may be noticed – These may include disorders that affect the nerves in the legs and paws, behavior changes like aggression or pacing, a change in normal sleep patterns or other unusual behavior.
- Transmission from cat-to-cat; this is usually caused from scratches or bite wounds.
- On rare occasions the virus can be transmitted at time of birth.
- Although FIV has been found in semen, sexual transmission, although possible, is uncommon.
A thorough physical examination of your cat will need to be performed by your Naples veterinarian. He will take into account your cat’s history of symptoms, other background information, and any other possible incidents that may have caused your cat to be susceptible to this condition. Of course, he will conduct a complete blood profile. He will include a chemical blood profile, a urinalysis, as well as a complete blood count. Your veterinarian will need to rule out viral infections, fungal infections, and bacterial infections, as well as testing for parasites and tumors, before he can give you a final diagnosis of FIV.