Retroviruses in cats
MetPet.com Staff Writer
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
FeLV and FIV are both caused by
retroviruses that are similar to, but not the same as, the virus that causes
human AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). There is
no indication that cats can spread this disease to people or be
infected by the human version. These viruses are species-specific.
They can, however, transmit it to other cats.
Both viruses depress the immune
system opening the door to secondary infections and diseases. The most
common contagious infection is upper-respiratory. The most common
non contagious disease is cancer. An individual cat can contract both FeLV
FeLV is spread through close and prolonged cat-to-cat contact through bodily
fluids (saliva, blood, urine and feces). Mother cats can give it to their
kittens when they are pregnant or when they are nursing. Companion cats
can spread it through shared food and water dishes and through mutual grooming.
FeLV can be spread when there are many cats in close quarters such as multiple
cat households and catteries. It is not transmitted through humans and is
FIV is spread when an infected cat
bites another cat. This can happen when cats fight so unneutered
male cats that are allowed outside have the highest risk of infection.
Progression and Symptoms
FeLV can be caused by one of several types of viruses which have slightly
different symptoms. There are recognizable stages that are similar:
(1) infection of the tissues of the mouth.
(2) the virus spreads to the blood
(3) the virus infects to the lymph glands.
(4) the virus infects the bone marrow.
(5) the infection spreads further into the blood
(6) the virus infects the tear glands, salivary glands and bladder. The
cat is now infectious and can spread the virus to other cats.
In the early stages, common
symptoms include weight loss, dehydration and fever. Other symptoms can
include kidney problems, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, cystitis (urinary
tract infection), etc. The symptoms are wide ranging and can also include
skin diseases, nerve damage and cancerous growths.
FIV also has a wide ranging group
of symptoms. Since the immune system is depressed, upper respiratory
infections can become chronic. The mouth can become inflamed there can be
loss of weight due to chronic diarrhea, fevers, enlargement of the lymph glands,
chronic abscesses and cystitis (urinary tract infection). Younger,
healthier cats can live for years with the disease in remission.
There is a vaccine for FeLV although it may not be 100% effective. There
are indications that some cats can develop tumors at the vaccination site
although such incidences are rare. Your personal veterinarian will be able
to discuss the pros and cons of vaccinating individual animals. There is a
school of thought that cats can be bolstered by giving vaccinations to infected
cats. However, this is controversial since some vaccines are weakened
forms of the live virus and the cat already has a weakened immune system.
FeLV Vaccination schedule (check
with your veterinarian for specifics)
First vaccination: 10 weeks
Second vaccination: 12 and 24 weeks depending on the type of vaccine
Repeat at approximately 1 year intervals depending on the type of vaccine
Fel-O-Vax® from Wyeth is the first vaccine
FIV Vaccination (check with your veterinarian for
Test to determine whether your cat has FIV, first shot
Second vaccination: 2 weeks later
Third vaccination: 2 weeks after that
Repeat every year
There is no cure for either FeLV or FIV. Some cats can live long and
healthy lives while others contract diseases immediately. Blood tests can
show the presence of both viruses. Your veterinarian should always
be notified if your cat has been infected since this could affect his
administration of vaccines and other treatments.
An infected cat should be kept
away from uninfected cats and, therefore, must be kept indoors. A healthy,
balanced and nutritious diet and good general care is the best way to maintain
your cat's health for as long as possible. Minimizing stress and
change is also helpful.