Keep your cat virus free

Sophie is excited to have free rein of her new home
Photo Credit: Shauna Sawich

Sophie, a 10 month old adopted from the Siamese Rescue, has found a loving family, but has to wait a few weeks for free rein of her new digs. Currently, she is quarantined from the other two cats in her house as a precautionary measure pending the results of blood tests for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV).

A 2004 study found 2.3% of North American cats tested positive for the FeLV antigen, 2.5% of cats tested positive for FIV antibodies, while 0.3% were infected with both viruses.

Common transmission of both viruses happens from saliva to blood contact. This puts populations prone to fights, like male, feral and outdoor cats at greatest risk. Mama cats sometimes pass viruses on to their kittens during gestation, birth or nursing – but not always.

Dr. Erika Anseeuw, director of Animal Health for the Winnipeg Humane Society, says, “Recent studies have shown transmission in a household of familiar and friendly cats.”

Susan Little, a veterinarian specializing in feline medicine, endorses getting your cat fixed as the best protection.

FIV is from the AIDs virus family, but can only be contacted by cats. FIV occurs in three stages; cats in the acute stage - within two months of transmission - experience symptoms including; fever, depression, swollen lymph nodes, skin infections, diarrhea, anemia and low white blood cell counts.

Next the cat enters the subclinical stage, which is generally symptom free and can last for years. In the third, chronic stage, the virus emerges from dormancy and cats get ill and die because of their suppressed immune systems.

Dr. Anseeuw says, “FIV positive cats can live many years of good quality life. However 80% of FeLV infected cats are dead of the virus within two years.”

FeLV is the leading cause of cancer in cats. It also causes blood disorders and can lead to immune deficiency that impedes that cat’s ability to fight infection. Secondary infections from common bacteria, viruses and fungi are responsible for many deaths of cats with FeLV.

During the primary stage some cats with strong immune systems are able to eliminate the virus from their bloodstream and keep it from advancing. The second, fatal stage is characterized by the spread of infection to bone marrow and tissue.

Finding homes for infected cats can be tough. In Winnipeg the Humane Society doesn’t place sick cats up for adoption, but they do work with shelters that do. An Adopt an FIV or Feline Leukemia Positive Cat group has formed on Facebook and puts potential owners and FIV/FeLV positive cats up for adoption in contact.

Lisa Skrabec found Noah, a FIV positive cat, through the group, “I think things are going fine, all I know is that he has very soft stool....but other then that I think he feels fine.....he eats well, and seems to be fine with being by himself when I am not here to supervise.”

There are vaccines that can help protect your cat from FeLV as well as FIV. FIV is difficult to vaccinate against because of variations in strains – there are at least five subtypes. Cats that have been vaccinated against FIV will test positive for the antigen.

Regular visits to the vet and careful day to day observation and care are crucial for infected cats. White blood cells counts should be monitored, treatments administered for infections, and diets designed to contain nutrients to boost immune systems.

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Erin Bend of Red River College

  • Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
  • User since Oct 27th 2009, 09:40