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Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Feline Infectious Peritonitis

Feline Leukaemia Virus

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)


Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a type of virus called a retrovirus. It is in the same family as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV, the virus that causes AIDS).

It attacks the immune system and as a result, the cat is unable to fight off various infections and cancers. There is no evidence FIV can be transmitted to mammals other than cats.

Retroviruses are fragile, being easily inactivated by ultraviolet light, heat, detergents, and drying.

The overall prevalence of FIV in the healthy UK cat population is approximately 6 per cent and estimated to be approximately 14 per cent in the sick cat population.

How is it transmitted?

FIV is NOT transmitted by prolonged close contact, as is the case for FeLV. FIV is shed in the saliva and is transmitted by bite wounds.

For this reason entire male cats carry a higher risk of infection and a free-living lifestyle, of feral or stray cats, increases the prevalence.

Any cat can be infected at any age but there is often considerable delay between infection and development of clinical signs and thus the appearance of the disease is more common in middle-aged to elderly cats.

Clinical signs

  • The disease conditions associated with FIV infection are fairly non-specific. During the primary phase of infection in the first 2-4 months, cats may show short-term signs of illness including lethargy, high temperature and possibly lymph node enlargement.
  • Most cats will recover from this early phase and enter a second phase when they appear to be healthy.
  • Eventually in the third phase of infection, other signs of disease develop which can be as a direct effect of the virus. One example would be infection of the gastrointestinal tract which may cause diarrhoea. By depressing the immune system and the cat's ability to fight off infection, the FIV infected cat is then prone to other secondary infections and diseases. Other signs seen include lethargy, weight loss, inappetence, pyrexia, swollen lymph glands and gingivitis (inflamed gums). These signs can all progress to seizures or fits as the nervous system becomes affected.

Treatment of FIV

Although FIV-positive cats can live for many years, your veterinarian needs to know if your cat is FIV-infected to provide the best care e.g., proper vaccinations and aggressive treatment of infections.

Stress and exposure to ill animals should be avoided. FIV-positive cats should be kept indoors both to protect them from exposure to disease and also to prevent them from spreading FIV to other cats.

Prevention

No vaccines are available against this disease. If one cat in a household is confirmed to be FIV positive then ideally the FIV infected cat should be isolated or rehomed.

However, as the risk of transmission by social contact such as sharing food bowls and mutual grooming is very low, many owners elect to keep the household as it is. It may be helpful to feed cats using separate food bowls as large amounts of virus are present in saliva.

Litter trays and food bowls should be disinfected after use to kill the virus. Once outside of the cat's body the virus dies within a few minutes, so infection is not easily carried on clothing or other objects.

 

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)


FIP is caused by a virus called coronavirus. Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is fatal disease of cats.

Infection with coronavirus is actually very common in cats but most of the time it does not cause any problems, other than maybe mild self-limiting diarrhoea.

Uncommonly, the virus mutates (changes) within an infected cat, and it is this mutated form that causes the disease of FIP.

While the precise cause of the viral mutation is unknown, several factors are likely to play a role. The majority of cases of FIP develop in younger cats.

A poorer immune response together with other stress factors such as rehoming, neutering, vaccination or other concurrent disease may make younger cats more vulnerable to FIP. Genetics also plays a role in its transmission.

How is FIP transmitted?

Feline coronavirus can be found in the saliva and faeces of infected cats. Therefore, cat-to-cat contact and exposure to feces in litter boxes are the most common modes of infection.

Contaminated food or water dishes, bedding, and personal clothing may also serve as sources of infection.

Clinical Signs

Although we separate FIP into 2 forms, wet and dry, there is really a gradient between the two forms, and we may often see signs of both forms.

Dry or Noneffusive Form: Dry FIP occurs in approximately ¼ of the cats with FIP.

Generally, the signs of the dry form come on more slowly. Non-specific signs such as slow weight loss, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy appear. Ten to twenty-five percent of cats will have neurological signs such as fitting.

The liver and kidneys are often affected. Sometimes the eye is the only organ affected. The pupil may appear irregular and the eye may appear discoloured.

Some cats with the dry form can live up to a year after first showing clinical signs.

Wet or Effusive Form: Early in the disease we can see similar signs to the dry form including weight loss, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy.

Anaemia with resultant pale gums is often seen. Constipation and diarrhoea can also occur. The wet form of the disease progresses rapidly and soon the cat may appear pot-bellied in appearance because of the fluid accumulation in the abdomen.

Generally, the cat shows no signs of abdominal pain. Fluid may also accumulate in the chest causing breathing difficulties. Most cats with the wet form of FIP die within 2 months of showing signs of disease.

How is FIP diagnosed?

Because we can not rely totally on the antibody test for a diagnosis, we must combine the history, clinical signs, laboratory results, Feline coronavirus test result, and possibly radiographs to come to a "probable" diagnosis.

The only way to be absolutely sure of an FIP infection is to biopsy affected tissues and have them examined by a veterinary pathologist.

As a result, most often the diagnosis is made after the cat has died, a postmortem examination has been performed and tissues have been examined.

How is FIP treated

There is no cure for FIP. A survivor of FIP is very rare. We can give the cat supportive care which will make her more comfortable and possibly extend her life for a short amount of time.

Because the dry form of FIP progresses more slowly, cats with this form can sometimes live longer than those with the wet form.

This is especially true if the eye is the only organ affected by granulomas. Cats who have an appetite, no neurological signs, and no anaemia usually respond better to the supportive care.

Supportive care includes

  • Periodic draining of abdominal or thoracic (chest) fluid in those with the wet form. If the fluid is drained too often, the cat loses large amounts of protein which can worsen the condition.
  • Fluid therapy
  • Quality nutrition
  • Antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections
  • Blood transfusions in cases of severe anaemia

Control of FIP in multi-cat households or Catteries

  • Litter boxes should be kept clean and located away from food and water dishes. The litter should be cleaned of faeces daily and totally removed at least once weekly when the box is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
  • Cats should be divided into families with 4-5 cats per group and kept separate from each other. These groups should also be divided according to age, with cats less than 4 months old separated from older cats.
  • Newly acquired cats and any cats that are suspected of being infected should be separated from the other cats.
  • Caretakers of the cats must use extreme care to make sure they are not bringing contaminated clothing, dishes, or other articles from one area to another. In general, kittens should be cared for first, and any suspect animals cared for last to minimise possible transmission to those most susceptible.
  • Eliminating FeLV from all cats is important.
  • Using the FIP test to identify potential carriers or immune animals is NOT possible.

 

Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)


Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) is a virus which gradually affects the cat's immune system so that they become more vulnerable to common ailments. It can also cause leukaemia and cancers in any of the main organs in the body. There is no cure and infected cats will die early.

FeLV only affects cats and so poses no risk to humans and other pets.

Cats can harbour the infection for months or even years before showing signs but most will show signs within 3 years. The virus is widespread in the cat population and is the main cause of premature death in cats.

The virus is mainly spread by direct contact with an infected cat or through the saliva if they groom each other.

The virus does not survive for long outside the animal and once an infected cat has been removed from the home, there should be little risk for new cats coming into the household.

Nevertheless, bleach all feeding bowls and litter trays etc before introducing a new cat.

Kittens can be infected by their mother. Kittens less than 4 months old are particularly at risk. Infected cats can harbour and shed the virus for long periods before becoming ill and are a major source of infection for others.

The signs of FeLV are

  • fever
  • lethargy
  • weight loss
  • breathing problems
  • anaemia
  • neurological signs
  • firm swellings of the lymph nodes (felt under the chin, behind the knees and in front of the shoulder)
  • sore mouth and gums.

If your cat tests positive through a simple blood test performed at the surgery, it is advised that you:

  • Keep your cat indoors to minimise exposure to other diseases and to prevent your cat from affecting other cats.
  • Keep your cat in a quiet, stress-free, comfortable environment and provide a healthy good-quality diet.
  • Isolate infected cats from other cats in your home even if they have been vaccinated.
  • All other cats which have been in contact with a FeLV positive cat should be tested immediately and then 12 weeks later to assess their status.

Vaccination of FeLV positive cats is of no benefit. It is therefore recommended that cats with a significant risk of having been exposed to FeLV be tested for FeLV antigen before they are vaccinated.

If they test negative, they can be vaccinated, while test positive cats should be isolated and retested after 1-2 months.

Cats positive at the second testing are given a poor prognosis while those negative at the second testing should be revaccinated since, in all likelihood, they have overcome the infection.

This disease is preventable with yearly FeLV vaccinations.