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  • Writer's pictureDrs. Frans, Bianca, Danielle & Rene

What you should know about Feline Aids (FIV) & Feline Leukemia (FeLV)

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

By Dr. Danielle van der Ryst BVSc

FIV and FeLV are a family of viruses which produce enzymes that allow them to insert a part of their own genetic material into that of the cells they have infected. Cats infected may not show any signs of illness for years after infection.

Although both FIV and FeLV are shed in high quantities in the saliva, their transmission differs:

FIV is transmitted primarily through biting and thus one cat, in a multiple-cat household, can test positive. Whilst the rest test negative.

FeLV is transmitted via intimate contact such as mutual grooming, shared litter-boxes and feeding dishes. As such it is more difficult to keep a multi-cat household free if one of the cats are diagnosed with FeLV.

Both these viruses can be transmitted from the pregnant queen to her unborn kittens either in uterus or via the milk. Although transmission of these viruses does differ, we must bear in mind that both are shed in the saliva, and as such both can be spread via ANY close contact, be it biting or grooming.

FIV and FeLV infect the white blood cells, leading to immunodeficiency (similar as humans with HIV). This makes cats that are positive more vulnerable to secondary viral, bacterial and fungal infections. Infected cats may also present with recurrent illness, followed by a slow recovery period and interspersed with relative periods of health. FIV has also been recorded to cause cancer (lymphoma).

Initially cats that are infected will have a fever and inappetence, with enlarged lymph nodes. As the disease progresses, they may show some of the following symptoms:

  • slow, progressive weight loss

  • poor coat condition

  • pale gums

  • persistent fever

  • mouth infections (stinky breath)

  • infections of the skin, bladder and respiratory tract

  • persistent diarrhea

Unfortunately, in this case prevention is better than cure, as there is no known cure. The treatment protocol for these cats consist of ensuring that they are protected from secondary opportunistic parasites. This is done by regular veterinary visits, feeding a healthy and balanced diet and closely monitoring the health of your beloved furry friend.

Monitoring their health consists of:

  • Checking feeding bowl (did she/he eat)

  • Checking litter box (is she/he urinating and defecating as normal)

  • Checking coat (is she/he grooming)

  • Check general behaviour (is my baby happy or irritated and uninterested in most things)

As said prevention is the answer in this particular case. Getting your baby sterilized and neutered at an appropriate age, reduces contact with other, possibly positive, cats. All cats should be tested by a veterinarian. Cats positive for FIV can be kept with others in a multi-cat household as long as there is no fighting among one another.

Cats positive for FeLV however should preferably be isolated from the rest of the cats. As this is not always a practical solution for most cat owners, we do recommend that the FeLV positive cats at least use their own litter boxes and feeding bowls and the other cats be vaccinated against FeLV.

The best solution to FeLV is to have your cats vaccinated as kittens to ensure that this disease never takes its toll on your babies.

Animal shelters, catteries and humane societies should have all cats and kittens tested for FeLV before allowing them to enter the facility. All FeLV positive cats should be removed or should be segregated and kept in a separate completely isolated room from the other cats where none of the excretions from these cats can reach the others. All dishes and litter boxes should be used exclusively only for these cats and should be disinfected after use.

FeLV negative cats that were housed with FeLV positive cats should be retested in 3 months to ensure that they are truly negative. Any positive cat should also be retested in 3 months to see if still positive as some cats (20-30%) could develop immunity against the virus and rid themselves of the infection.

Although HIV, FeLV and FIV fall into the same family of viruses they are specie specific and will not infect humans or dogs.

In conclusion both of these viruses can be detrimental to the health and well being of your furry baby and as such we urge each and every responsible cat owner to have their cats tested. A positive result is not a death sentence. A positive result only ensures that we as vets and animal owners can better monitor our beloved pets and keep them free of secondary diseases.

For information on how we test and costs involved please feel free to contact us on 0126645763

Form 9 to 20 March 2020 we'll have a special on testing your cat for only R400, including consultation. Bookings essential. Excluding any medications and vaccinations recommended.

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