Testing cats for common diseases on annual intervals is becoming standard protocol in Florida. These include Feline Internal Organ Function Tests, Feline Leukemia Virus, Feline Heartworm, and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) .
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is very similar to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. This life threatening disease has no effective treatment and is non curable. It is a Lenti-Virus closely related to the Feline Leukemia Virus and occurs in about 2% of cats in the United States. About 5% of FIV positive cats also have Feline Leukemia. It is not transmitted to humans or dogs but is transmitted to other cats by saliva, primarily through cat bites. It may also be transmitted to kittens during birthing and nursing. Not every kitten born from an FIV queen can be infected. Cats infected with FIV may live for months or years. On average, life expectancy is 5 years from the time of diagnosis depending on how active the infection is. There is a FIV vaccination given twice initially, then yearly thereafter for outside cats or cats exposed to outside cats due to the potential of cat bites. This vaccine will help prevent FIV about 80% of the time.
Infected cats show a wide array of clinical signs. In most cases there is an ongoing wasting syndrome, losing up to 30% of body weight with generalized poor health. Because of the reduced immune system response they are extremely prone to all other diseases. The test most commonly used is the ELISA test for the FIV antibody. If this test result is positive then a confirmatory Western Blot test is recommended. Cats are tested on or after 15 weeks of age if there are no clinical signs of illness. After an infected bite wound it takes 8 to 12 weeks for antibodies to be produced for more accurate testing.
Infected cats can lengthen their life expectancy by being given immune stimulating medications, high quality diets, and placed in sanitary low stress environments. Because of the dysfunction of the immune system, infected cats are more likely to catch other diseases if they have contact with other cats. Since FIV is transmitted by bites from cat to cat it is important to keep infected cats isolated to minimize the spread disease.