What Is Feline AIDS?

Feline AIDS affects nearly three percent of all healthy cats in the United States. Understand how the feline immunodeficiency virus is transmitted. Learn how to prevent the disease from affecting your pet. Finally, learn about the symptoms in each of the FIV stages.

What Is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus slowly weakens a cat's immune system. It can take years for any symptoms to occur making it important to have your pet vaccinated and to keep your cat away from other cats who bite. Keeping your cat indoors usually eliminates any risk. Do not expose your cats to a new cat without first having that new cat tested for Feline AIDS.

The feline AIDS virus attacks the immune system allowing other bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses to worsen a cat's health. FIV keeps the cat's immune system from battling secondary infections that can end a cat's life.

It's important to know that feline AIDS does not affect humans. While human AIDS and FIV are both viruses that target the immune system, FIV is specific to felines. No scientific studies have found evidence proving the virus can survive in a human host.

The Transmission of Feline AIDS

There are two ways feline immunodeficiency virus is spread. The first, and most common, is through a bite with an infected cat. This is common in outdoor cats who have not been vaccinated for the disease. During a cat fight, an infected cat bites another cat and the virus is passed from one cat to the other through the saliva. With indoor cats who live together and wrestle without ever biting, it is highly unlikely FIV will pass from one to the other.

The second way FIV is passed is from a mother cat to her newborn kittens. Feline immunodeficiency virus is transmitted through breast milk or through birth fluids as the kittens are being born. It's less common, but there is the chance an infected mother can put her kittens at risk.

FIV Stages and Symptoms

There are three stages of feline immunodeficiency virus.

  • Acute
  • Latent
  • Final

During the acute stage, early symptoms may occur. You may not always catch the symptoms, but they will show up about six weeks after contracting Feline AIDS. They include fever and swollen lymph nodes.

The second stage, called the latent stage, lasts for years and there are no symptoms. During this time, the virus spreads through the body starting the slow destruction of the immune system.

The final stage is when most cats die. FIV has taken over the body and ruined the immune system. During this time, secondary diseases set in and put the cat's health at risk. Because the immune system no longer functions properly, the cat cannot fight off the infection or disease. Common symptoms in the final stage include:

  • Decreased white cell count
  • Elevated globulin counts
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Weight loss

Most cats in the final stage develop severe respiratory infections, pneumonia and anemia. Others may develop skin diseases, lymphoma, gastrointestinal disease and oral infections. Once the final stage is reached, most cats have less than a year to live.