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Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Guidelines recently published by the Australian Feline Retrovirus Advisory Panel, headed by leading feline expert Dr Mark Westman have highlighted several key risks and recommendations for protection of Australian cats against FeLV (Feline Leukaemia) and FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus).
Australia has the 3rd highest FIV infection rate in the World (Japan 1st, Thailand 2nd), which is due to our open outdoor spaces.  With an increase in cats with outdoor access, we increase the risk of both feral cat populations and subsequently transmission of FIV between cats.  
It is estimated that 20% of Australian cats are FIV positive, with an historically low FIV vaccination uptake by owners of young cats when they are receiving their primary course (first vaccinations) as young kittens.  We know that young cats in their first 12 months are in the highest risk category for contracting FIV;
  • They are immune naïve (underdeveloped immune system)
  • They are establishing new territories
  • Undesexed young male cats can travel up to 7kn from home in one night!
Subsequently, the AFRAP have reviewed their recommendations for vaccinating kittens in their primary vaccination course to recommend ALL kittens be vaccinated against FIV, as recent studies have identified that over 80% of cats in Australia have some outdoor access (therefore putting them at risk of exposure to FIV).  
FIV is typically transmitted from cat to cat through fighting (cats are territorial) via the infected cats’ saliva.  Once a cat becomes exposed to FIV, it will usually not present with clinical signs during the first two stages of infection, so you likely wont even know your cat is FIV positive.  
Subsequently, cats in first stages of infection are often left to roam and further spread infection to other unvaccinated cats in their neighbourhood. 
Because FIV is a disease that compromises the immune system in infected patients, it is usually NOT FIV that makes cats sick or causes morbidity, but rather causes the cats immune system to be compromised, allowing otherwise non-serious pathogens to cause serious illness or worse.
What is FIV?
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) causes a potentially fatal viral disease that interferes with the immune system in cats.
The virus lives in the blood of the infected cat and is carried in its system throughout its life. Healthy cats contract the infection through being bitten by an FIV positive cat.

Cats infected with FIV may remain healthy for a number of years. While some infected cats show no sign of disease, others may display initial symptoms such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethergy
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes

As the disease progresses, symptoms may occur such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Sores in & around the mouth
  • Poor coat
  • Eye lesions
  • Chronic infections
Eventually the immune system becomes too weak to fight off other infections or diseases.
How FIV contracted?
The most common way that FIV spreads among cats is through biting. The saliva of an FIV-positive cat contains the virus, so it can spread to another cat through a bite wound.
The most frequently infected cats are typically aggressive male cats that are allowed to freely roam.
Another way that FIV can spread is from a mother cat to her kittens, although it is very rare. This can happen either during pregnancy, birth, or nursing.
How Do You Protect Your Cat?
The only way to protect your cat against FIV is to NEVER let it outside.  EVER.  The next best option, if 100% exclusive indoor lifestyle is not an option, is to protect your cat with the FIV vaccine.  This vaccine has a higher protective rate than the human influenza vaccine and once kittens have received their primary course initially, requires just a single annual booster injection.  
The vaccine is effective and inexpensive, so we strongly recommend it for ALL cats with ANY outdoor access.  It is cheaper and easier for you if we vaccinate kittens initially, as unvaccinated adult cats are required to have a blood test to confirm they are not already infected, prior to us administering the FIV vaccine to your adult cat.
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O’Halloran Hill Vet Centre

123 Main South Road
O’Halloran Hill, SA 5158

Hilton Vet Centre

142 Sir Donald Bradman Drive
Hilton, SA 5033