Feline immunodeficiency virus is also known as FIV or feline AIDS. The disease is caused by a contagious virus that can be passed from one cat to another. The contagious nature of the disease makes testing for FIV important. Identifying the signs and which cats test positive for FIV allows cat owners to take precautions to help these cats lead longer, healthier lives.
Should Your Cat Be Tested for FIV?
Virtually every cat should be tested for FIV, and especially outdoor felines. Tests on kittens under six months old may not be reliable unless they were born to mothers already infected with the disease. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has provided additional guidelines to determine which cats to test and when.
- If your cat has never been tested, you should have it tested.
- If you bring a new cat home, test your new pet for FIV before entering your household. Retest a new cat in 60 days.
- If your cat is exposed to another cat with FIV, a test should be given 60 days after contact.
- If your cat is sick in general, your veterinarian should test for FIV.
- If you plan on vaccinating your cat for FIV, it should be tested for the virus first.
Is It AIDS?
The terminology can be confusing. FIV is similar to HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus), causing a disease in cats that's similar to human AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). FIV is highly species-specific and can't infect or harm humans, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
What's the Test for FIV?
Testing for the feline immunodeficiency virus is performed with a small sample of your cat's blood. The ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test is the most common one done to screen cats for FIV. If this test is positive, a second type of blood test may be recommended to confirm your cat's infection. This test is known as the Western blot test.
What If Your Cat Tests Positive for FIV?
A positive FIV test does not mean that your cat is dying from the disease. It simply means that your cat has been exposed to the virus. A cat that tests positive for FIV can still live for a long time if you take some simple precautions. A cat that tests positive for the feline immunodeficiency virus may have a weakened immune system and may be susceptible to other infections as a result. Remember that your cat is a potential carrier of the disease and could pass the disease to other cats. Protect your cat from these secondary infections by following these five suggestions.
- Keep your cat indoors and have it spayed or neutered.
- Have your cat examined by your veterinarian at least twice a year. Your veterinarian will examine your cat, perform routine blood tests, and keep your cat up to date with its vaccinations. Always immediately seek your veterinarian's help if your cat becomes sick.
- Don't feed your cat raw meat or eggs that may have bacteria.
- Ask your veterinarian how to keep your cat free of parasites, such as fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal worms.
- Some veterinarians recommend keeping your FIV-positive cat segregated from other cats in the household to avoid spreading the virus.
In the past, cats that tested positive for the feline immunodeficiency virus were frequently euthanized. It was believed that their prognosis was grave and they were a serious threat to the rest of the feline population. Happily, this is no longer true, and euthanasia is no longer routinely recommended for cats testing positive for FIV.