AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome in cats, is the condition where the immune system of the affected cat weakens and fails to combat infectious agents, which makes the animal susceptible to a number of opportunistic infections. This health problem is caused by the lentivirus, known as feline immunodeficiency virus. Basically, this virus attacks and destroys the white blood cells, which are responsible for protecting the body from infections and illnesses.
Transmission of FIV
Primarily, this virus is transmitted through the contact with the saliva and blood of the infected cat. It can also spread from an infected mother to her offspring through the placenta, which is however quite rare. FIV can also get transmitted to the kittens through their mother's milk (if the mother is infected). But more frequently, the virus spreads through deep scratches and wounds received during a fight with the infected cats. Any kind of sexual activity with an infected cat can also spread the virus, though it is quite rare.
Can Humans Get Feline AIDS?
Though feline immunodeficiency virus and human immunodeficiency virus are genetically quite similar, they are not the same virus. Therefore, feline AIDS is not contagious or transmissible to humans. Similarly, human immunodeficiency virus is also not contagious to cats.
Symptoms of FIV/AIDS
As has been mentioned already, this condition is associated with the progressive destruction of white blood cells. So, the number of white blood cells reduces in cats infected with FIV, which in turn compromises the ability of the immune system to prevent infections and diseases. In the early stage, this condition may not produce symptoms, or produce only vague symptoms.
The most commonly observed early symptoms are:
- Poor appetite
- Poor coat condition
- Swollen lymph nodes
As the disease progresses, more serious symptoms can be observed. The later symptoms of FIV infection are:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Dull coat and frequent skin infections
- Mouth sores and tooth and gum problems
- Chronic diarrhea
- Ear infection
- Sores around the eyes
- Tumors or lymphomas
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of FIV/AIDS begins with a careful evaluation of the clinical signs and symptoms, followed by a blood test to look for the presence of FIV antibodies. But many times, a cat can carry FIV antibodies, but not the virus. This can happen more commonly in kittens under 6 months of age, as they can get the antibodies from their mother's milk. Therefore, kittens are usually tested for FIV only after completing 6 months of their life. Cats vaccinated with the AIDS vaccine can also test positive for FIV antibody.
So far, there is no cure for feline AIDS. However, it is possible to slow down the progression of the disease with the appropriate medications. Cats with AIDS become very susceptible to develop secondary infections and diseases, which also call for immediate medical intervention. To prevent cats from getting infected with the virus, vaccines have been developed. However, cats receiving such a vaccine would always test false positive for the FIV antibody, even if they do not carry the virus. Cats who have received vaccination would need a yearly booster dose for better protection.
Apart from vaccination, you can take measures to keep your cat inside, and prevent it from socializing with other cats, in order to minimize the risk of getting infected with FIV. Even neutering or spaying a cat may help control the transmission of the disease, as such a cat is less likely to engage in fights. If your cat happens to get infected with FIV, then be sure to keep it away from other cats. Cats with AIDS should not be allowed to eat or drink from the same bowl with the healthy cats. Lastly, if your FIV infected cat shows signs of secondary illness or infection, make sure to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of a veterinarian.