A recent investigation in Canada found that approximately two out of every 10 feral cats in Saskatchewan are infected with feline AIDS or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). In the United States, the statistics are lower but still startling, with approximately 1.5 to 3 percent of otherwise healthy cats infected with FIV.
If, like me, you’re the proud parent of a precious cat, this is certainly troubling news. It’s essential that cat owners be well-versed in the signs and symptoms of feline AIDS, as well as the steps that can be taken to prevent infection among your own kitties.
“It is a bit of a difficult disease to diagnose,” Dr. Bob Bellamy, veterinarian at the Bellamy Harrison Animal Hospital, told The Moose Jaw Times Herald. “Initially after they’re infected, there are virtually no symptoms, but it causes depression of the immune system so the infected animal will develop a variety of infections and have real trouble fighting them off.”
Animal experts agree: the best way to protect your cat from contracting FIV is to keep them indoors. Because of the increased potential for contact with infected feral cats, domestic cats who are free to roam around outside run a greater risk of developing feline AIDS.
“Because biting is the most efficient means of viral transmission, free-roaming, aggressive male cats are the most frequently infected, while cats housed exclusively indoors are much less likely to be infected,” explains the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.
It’s also important to know that it may take years for an infected cat to show signs or FIV, which is why it’s essential to make sure outdoor cats are seen annually by a qualified vet.
Signs and Symptoms of Feline Aids via Cornell University:
- Poor coat condition and persistent fever with a loss of appetite are commonly seen.
- Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and mouth (stomatitis) and chronic or recurrent infections of the skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract are often present.
- Persistent diarrhea can also be a problem, as can a variety of eye conditions.
- Slow but progressive weight loss is common, followed by severe wasting late in the disease process.
- Various kinds of cancer and blood diseases are much more common in cats infected with FIV, too.
- In unspayed female cats, abortion of kittens or other reproductive failures have been noted.
- Some infected cats experience seizures, behavior changes, and other neurological disorders.
While the virus has no effect on humans, it is extremely contagious and fatal to cats with no effective treatment. This means that even if only one of your cats regularly roams outdoors, the FIV could easily spread to your indoor-only cats.
The good news is that North American vets regularly test for FIV and there is a vaccine for feline AIDS. If your cats aren’t already protected in this way, be sure to ask about the vaccine during your next vet visit.