Do cats get AIDS?

Knowing that AIDS is a potentially fatal disease, a vet’s pronouncement that the cat has AIDS would surely have devastating effects on the owner. AIDS is one of the deadliest pandemics. AIDS or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, a condition caused by human immune deficiency virus has claimed millions of lives. AIDS is a dreaded disease. Not many cat owners are aware that a virus similar to HIV is affecting these feline friends. Cats have their own type of AIDS too. Cats can get affected by the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

FIV in cats and HIV in humans are both lentivirus. These are classified as slow viruses because of their long incubation period. These viruses though are very efficient as they have the ability of replicating even in non-dividing cells therefore creating a highly destructive effect on the infected cat. In cats, this deadly viral infection is called Feline AIDS. Infected cats will succumb to a variety of secondary infections as the virus prevents the immune system from performing its function of fighting diseases and infections. FIV just like HIV has no cure. Cats would have good health and live relatively normal lives for years but any kind of infection would have fatal effects. This highly transmissible disease affects about 14% of the cat population.

The virus is transmitted through blood and saliva. Stray cats and outdoor cats are at greatest risk because of these animals’ inclination to fight. An infected cat biting and scratching another while playing or fighting would easily transmit the virus through bite wounds. FIV present in a mother cat’s milk and would be transmitted to the nursing kittens. This mode of transmission though is very rare.

Once the virus is transmitted, the cat would go through three stages of infection. On the first stage of infection, the virus will go to the regional lymph nodes. Infected cat will have fever and have other signs of mild illness such as the enlargement of the lymph nodes. This period will be followed by the sub-clinical phase where the virus will remain dormant for months and even for years. The cat has the FIV virus but it does not necessarily mean that it has AIDS. Infected cat will appear healthy until an infection flares up. At the final stage (also called terminal and chronic infection stage) clinical signs of the various infections and disease would start to show up. Viral, bacterial, protozoa and fungal infections can easily develop because of the cat’s suppressed immune system. Signs of FIV include chronic fever, diarrhea, weight loss, inappetance and seizures. Clinical signs vary depending on the kind of infections/diseases the cat has succumbed to.

There is no cure for feline AIDS. While the infected cat is at the dormant stage, any kind of treatment would not be necessary. However, regular veterinary checkups would be needed to monitor the general health of the pet. If the cat has succumbed to secondary infections, the vet would usually give antibiotics. Supportive care in the form of blood transfusions, IV therapy and force feeding for cats that have refused food are also given.

Feline AIDS is a potentially fatal disease. Once the virus is transmitted, an infected cat will never be able to get rid of it. The good news is that the causative virus for feline AIDS cannot be transmitted to humans. However, cat owners would still need to save the pet from this fatal infection. Exposure to the virus can be prevented by keeping the pet indoors. If ever the pet is allowed to stay outdoors, it must be closely supervised. A visit to the vet for an FIV blood test will also be necessary.