Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a common infectious disease that attacks a cat's immune system, making them vulnerable to serious illness from secondary infections. Most cats with properly treated FIV live normal life spans. It's natural for owners to worry about the future of a chronically ill cat, but there are a few steps they can take after an FIV diagnosis to give their pet the best shot at a long, healthy life.
The false positive rate for FIV tests can be up to 20%. Kittens, in particular, can test positive due to antibodies from their mom without actually having the disease. FIV is also a slow-moving virus; even a cat who does have the condition may die of old age before seeing serious effects. It's true that they will need extra care and support, but there's no reason to view FIV as a death sentence.
Treatment will likely depend on how advanced the FIV is, the age of the cat, and if there are any secondary infections. They may need any combination of diet, medication, in-clinic treatments, and at-home care. Make sure to clarify with the veterinarian what things will need to be done at home and how many follow-up appointments the cat will need.
FIV cannot be passed from cat to cat via sneezing or sharing food. The primary means of spreading FIV is through deep bites. If two cats are prone to fighting, it may be necessary to separate them or re-home one cat once the other tests positive for FIV, but a peaceful cat with FIV can safely live alongside other kitties.
Keeping an FIV-positive cat indoors helps ensure they don't spread the virus to other cats in the neighborhood by fighting. It also reduces the risk of the cat picking up a secondary infection. FIV damages the immune system, meaning that bacteria, viruses, and fungi that wouldn't even cause symptoms in a healthy cat can cause serious illness or even death in a cat with FIV.
Just like any other cat, FIV-positive cats need a healthy, nutritious diet. Their risk of contracting food-borne illness is higher than that of a healthy cat, so avoid any foods with a higher risk of carrying bacteria or parasites, including raw meat and eggs and unpasteurized dairy products. Cats with FIV can eat meat that has been cooked thoroughly.
Most cats with FIV are as playful and energetic as a healthy cat. Treating kitty as though they're fragile, however, may be counterintuitive. Cats are creatures of habit, and having their owners suddenly handle them with kid gloves can make the cat stressed and confused. They could act out without play time to burn off their energy, and exercise helps strengthen their bodies against potential infection.
Cats with FIV can quickly become critically ill if they catch a cold or other common illness. Contact your vet as soon as the cat shows any sign of feeling ill. Sometimes a vet may recommend special treatments to help fight off the illness, while in other cases, they may simply need extra attention until they feel better.
Vaccines that would be safe in healthy cats could cause illness in a cat with FIV. Check with their vet before giving the cat any vaccination. In some cases, the cat may need to have an alternative version of the vaccine, while other shots may need to be skipped altogether. The best way to keep cats safe from illness is to avoid coming into contact with pathogens as much as possible.
FIV-positive cats should have a wellness visit with their vet every six months with a complete blood count and urinalysis once a year. It's especially important that they are weighed regularly, as weight loss is the first symptom of deteriorating health for many cats with FIV. Vets can also check on the health of their gums, eyes, skin, and lymph nodes and possibly prevent future infections.
Stigma against FIV leads to many cats being unnecessarily passed up for adoption or even put down. An indoor cat with FIV can thrive in a loving, one-cat home. While feline immunodeficiency virus is related to the virus that causes HIV in humans, there's no risk of a human becoming ill from a cat with FIV. Seeing other people raising healthy, happy FIV-positive cats may help save lives.
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