Feline AIDS


by Dr Ralf Patzelt


Feline AIDS And The Power Of Prevention

Sylvester*, Sheena’s street-smart cat just wasn’t himself.  Five years after ‘adopting’ Sheena as his mistress, Sylvester’s coat wasn’t as glossy as it used to be … he wasn’t eager to roam the neighbourhood as he used to, and his appetite wasn’t what it used to be.  Sheena was gutted when her vet informed her that her cat tested positive for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) … and that there was not much more that could be done for him.  The distressed owner asked if her other cats could  contract this deadly virus, at which point her vet gave her a detailed run-down of FIV, and how contracting it might be prevented. Around the time when the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was identified, Dr Neils Pedersen first identified the feline immunodeficiency virus as an infectious agent of cats.  This virus is in the same ‘family’ of viruses as the feline leukaemia virus, commonly known as FeLV.  Both viruses interfere with the infected cat’s immune system, much like HIV affects the human immune system, making infections very hard to ward off.

Do Cats Actually Contract ‘Cat AIDS’ After Being Infected With FIV?

Cats infected with FIV could remain healthy for as long as 10 years.  Feline AIDS is a consequence of infection with FIV.  At this point, the infected cat has an increased susceptibility to viral, bacterial, protozoal and fungal diseases.  These are all classed as secondary diseases, which result in the cat becoming ill.

How Do Cats Contract FIV?

FIV is spread from cat to cat, mainly through bite wounds.  The virus is shed in high levels through saliva.  Cats whose lifestyles involve being outdoors a great deal, are at greater risk of contracting the virus as they have more chance of coming into contact with stray cats who may be FIV-positive.

What Are The Symptoms?

While some infected cats show absolutely no symptoms for a decade, others may display initial symptoms such as fever, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes, among other symptoms.  As the disease takes its toll, additional symptoms may include weight loss, eye lesions, chronic infections and sores in and around the mouth.  Eventually the affected cat’s immune system is so eroded that it can no longer fight infections, resulting in death at the hand of one of these secondary infections.

Isn’t There A Cure For FIV Infection?

Unfortunately there is no cure.  Vets do their best to treat each secondary infection as it presents itself, but there is no cure for infection with FIV and Feline AIDS.  Fortunately recent breakthroughs have seen the international launch of the first FIV vaccine.  The good news for South African cat lovers is that it is now locally available.

Should I Get All My Cats Vaccinated Against FIV?

This is something you need to discuss with your vet.  Your vet will most likely ask you about your cat’s lifestyle … whether he’s a street-wise roamer,  how often he comes in contact with unfamiliar cats, or whether he simply loves sunning on the porch all day.  Lifestyle assessment is an important aspect of your cat’s FIV-risk assessment, and this would determine whether an FIV vaccination should be included in your cat‘s existing vaccination schedule.

Besides Vaccination, Is There Anything Else I Could Do To Prevent FIV Infection?


  • Try to limit the exposure of indoor cats to outdoor cats.
  • Use caution when introducing a new cat to a multi-cat household.  It might be wise to get the new cat tested for FIV if it has a high-risk (outdoor or feral) past.
  • Isolate an aggressive cat from other cats

Talk to your vet about the new FIV vaccination, and whether your cat is a candidate for vaccination.


©Pet’s Health

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