Feline AIDS

by Dr Francesca Matthews


What is it?


Feline AIDS is caused by the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). It is similar to the human HIV virus causing human AIDS but the viruses are host specific. That means that you can't get AIDS from your cat, nor can your cat get AIDS from you.



What does it do to my cat?


FIV affects the immune system of cats. Some cats show no outward signs, while others display symptoms varying from recurrent fevers, loss of appetite, lethargy, diarrhoea and swollen lymph nodes. The disease can progress further leading to non healing sores in the mouth and chronic and difficult to treat infections. Eventually the immune system is unable to fight off infections and diseases and it is from these that the cat finally dies.


Not all cats will die from the disease. Once testing positive, many cats will carry the disease for many years before showing any symptoms whatsoever. However it is impossible to predict which cats will do this.



How common is it?


Studies show that approximately 14% of the domestic cat population across New Zealand are infected, however the problem in the wild cat population is estimated to be closer to 22%. It follows too that some areas have much higher populations of FIV positive cats. Prevalence is believed to be increasing. With the advent of an FIV vaccination it is one important tool in slowing the spread of the disease.



How is the disease spread?


Bite wounds and therefore cats fighting is the main method of transmission. There are high levels of virus found in the saliva and biting ensures that the saliva is injected into the flesh under the skin. Contact via mutual grooming or sharing the same food bowls does not pose a significant risk.


High numbers of stray cats in the area increase the risk to your cat, as there is a higher prevalence of the disease in the wild cat population. As these cats are more likely to be unneutered, they are more likely to fight. 



How do I stop my cat getting the disease?


  1. Have your cat vaccinated - this is an additional vaccination, that is not a routine part of your cats annual vaccination protocol.  Read more
  2. Reduce your cats fighting - ensure it is desexed and keep it inside at least at night when most fighting occurs
  3. Ensure any new cats introduced to your household are tested prior to entering the household
  4. If you already have a multi-cat household, take steps to reduce fighting within the household

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