AIDS or feline immunodeficiency virus, VIF is a virus that affects domestic cats worldwide. Approximately 11% of the world's cats are infected with feline AIDS. This virus differs taxonomically from two other feline retroviruses, the feline foam virus and the leukemia virus and is more closely related to the HIV human immunodeficiency virus.
Feline immunodeficiency or FIV (“feline AIDS”) was first discovered during an investigation of an epidemic in a colony of apparently healthy cats, these cats were collected from the street in America. Although you do not believe it, there are cats that are positive for this disease but it remains dormant in the cat without causing disease, others unfortunately develop the disease having to be controlled for life, since they never eliminate the infection of the body.
Does a cat have AIDS? That's possible?
If you are a catman or have a cat in the family, you will surely have heard of a disease commonly called “AIDS Feline" Many people who come to the consultation with a cat who unfortunately diagnosed this virus always ask the same questions: is it contagious to people ?, Is it the same as human AIDS ?, Will it live well or do I have to sacrifice?. Today I want to tell you about this disease since it is very important in cats that have access to the outside of the house and make their “escapeditas” to see their cat friends, cats that unfortunately are in the street without owners and in the collective cats such as protective or hatcheries.
Is AIDS in cats the same as AIDS in humans?
The symptoms of feline and human viruses are very similar, but do not be afraid to have a cat with VIF, since the virus is specific to that species, which means that:
A cat with FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) can only infect cats, just as a person with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) can only infect humans and never cats.
Unfortunately today there is no vaccine in Europe to protect against this virus, several methods are being studied to obtain one, but at the moment there is no vaccine against feline AIDS that is completely effective and does not mask serial tests in clinics. In the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Japan they do have a vaccine, but the strain of the virus is different, so it is not useful in Europe. For now we are still waiting for the key to be able to control this virus in cats.
How is it transmitted?
The virus is worldwide distributed with prevalences that vary according to the study areas. In cats studied in Spain, prevalences between 11 and 22% have been found. The transmission of the virus is through saliva, that is, when a cat bites another cat. Sexual transmission does not occur since this virus is mostly located in the cat's mouth. The problem is that when copulating, the male cat bites the female's neck to induce ovulation so that at this time he would be transmitting the virus. Thus, male cats without castration are at greater risk of AIDS infection, and the prevalence increases with stray and stray cats. Although cats can become infected at any age, the symptoms are late onset, so it usually occurs in adult and older animals.
What does VIF affect cats?
The contagion, as we have seen, is done through saliva: by bites, fights between males, mutual grooming, use of feeders and joint drinkers, etc. VIF affects the animal's immune system and destroys it. This causes the immune system to gradually deteriorate, arriving at the moment when the animal has practically no defenses. Therefore, the cat can no longer cope with infections, being at direct risk of contracting diseases from other viruses, bacteria or parasites.
Symptoms of AIDS in cats
The symptoms of “feline AIDS” can be very specific and on several occasions difficult to detect. During the first phase of the disease that lasts 2 - 4 months, cats may simply show discomfort, fever and larger than normal lymph nodes. This phase is overcome by the vast majority of cats subsequently entering a phase where they are apparently healthy and the virus begins to spread. Finally, they enter a phase in which other signs appear due to the direct effect of the virus on the immune system: diarrhea, respiratory infections, skin infections, secondary diseases, etc.
My cat has AIDS And now what?
Something very important if we talk about this virus is that if your cat is already positive for VIF, it will be for life since there is currently no treatment that permanently removes the virus from inside your body, but we could manage to control the disease and give the cat quality of life for many more years. The main objective of treatment against this virus is focused on giving good quality of life and avoiding secondary infections. These cats should be at home (not letting them go outside) to avoid secondary infections and also prevent the spread of the virus to other cats. We will have to give them very good nutrition and essential management so that they have the best quality of life and health. And of course, visit the veterinarian semiannually to detect if there is any change in the cat's health and even an analytical at least per year to ensure that there is nothing else out there hidden, remember that cats are experts in hiding diseases so their early detection and more if there is a virus of this type associated is essential.
Recommendations of the Veterinary Clinic La Asunción
In these cases we recommend castration to reduce the stress that occurs in heat and sexual behavior. Also keep in mind that un neutered cats are more likely to leave home and have fights with other cats (thus spreading the virus). If there are more cats at home, it will be necessary to check that the other cats are not infected and separate them to avoid contagion (prevent them from sharing drinking troughs, feeders, etc.).
In the case of wanting to introduce a new cat at home, if you already have more cats, the best advice we can give you is to make a complete analysis to detect infectious pathogens since in cats unfortunately it is much more dangerous than it seems. You can put your own cats at direct risk, even in some cases risk of death.
Find out well before introducing any animal without data of its origin and health status because unfortunately, we have already had to go through a sad story in which some client has picked up a seemingly healthy street cat and a few weeks later, his Cat himself is the one who has become seriously ill.
"They can live many years"
«The outcome is not always the death of the animal, they can live many years although they will become carriers of the disease throughout his life ”, explains veterinarian Montse Dogos, member of the Gemfe (Spanish group of specialists in feline medicine) and regular collaborator of Difusiуn Felina.
Families live it without fear. "No one would put his own at risk if he had the slightest doubt," emphasizes Miguel, a 30-year-old graphic designer who is excited about Chacho. «Absolutely nothing happens to have at home one or several carrier cats of the virus living with others that are not ». Before having a home, the "zalamero" chacho malvivнa in a gypsy village on the outskirts of Pontevedra. «My friends affectionately call him 'cat sidoso', they caress him and start playing with him. Also my parents and my sister Leticia ».
The cat has been with Miguel for two years and every night he sleeps with his owner. During the day, he shares his living space with a cat with whom he relates with all normality with hardly any risk of transmission of the virus since being sterilized there is no danger of riding, one of the most common ways of transmission of the VIF. Another is through the bite during a fight. For this reason, un castrated males are at greater risk of contagion, especially if they escape, stray and lost. Saliva (which does not occur in humans) and blood are the main routes of infection. A single bite - or a lick in a wound - can trigger the transmission of the infection. Sharing the drinker and the feeder carries an added risk.
The virus acts primarily by destroying the cat's defenses, causing fever, diarrhea, inflammation of the tongue and gums, difficulty breathing and neurological disturbances that cause disorientation and balance disorders, as well as loss of electrical impulses in the nerves of the extremities . Some cats that are born from positive females may even become infected during pregnancy or through breast milk. Feline AIDS, or VIF (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), attacks T lymphocytes (important for maintaining the immune system in good condition), and this causes in the affected animal disorders are generated in the natural defenses of the organism that are progressing gradually.
The good news is that the VIF "is not transmitted to humans", insists again and again the veterinarian Martнnez. "And if they are well fed and controlled they can have a very long life." Some studies argue that only 30% of carrier cats develop AIDS. It depends largely on the strength with which the immune system faces the disease. Moreover, the specialist adds: "the virus is not transmitted to dogs, to birds, or to any animal other than the felines themselves, that is, only infects those of the same species, felines." Nor do they need a space medication. In most cases, a balanced diet is sufficient (According to Gemfe experts, raw meat, eggs and unpasteurized milk should be avoided because the risk of infection by food bacteria and parasites is higher in these animals with low defenses), «deworming and two or three analytical control per year in order to detect the minimum signal early before the disease appears, ”says veterinarian Montse. They know each other cases of positive cats that have exceeded even 10 years of life, an age very similar to the vital expectation of a negative cat.
Uxнo, with which this report starts, he already had the symptoms of the disease when Fátima welcomed him with just one year. Today he has five, one eye is missing and with the other he barely sees. "They had to empty it, but there it is with eight kilos, asking for caresses to everyone and with tremendous vitality," says Fátima satisfied and hopeful.
Mimн, like Chacho and Uxнo, has also broken the legend that attributes cats almost supernatural resistance. Mimн has managed to overcome those seven mythical lives of cats. The eighth and final came through a woman of 74 years, good heart and name Milagros. "Mimi was a skeleton and had given birth to three kittens," Milagros proudly recalls having a positive cat. «I saw her from a woman she knew and asked her. Now live as God ». He has turned five years old. «He doesn't take any medicine, he eats good feed, I give him vitamins to strengthen his defenses, he travels, he sunbathes on the terrace, he plays with my grandchildren, with the dogs. He is like a queen, ”summarizes Milagros, who says he no longer imagines life without his cat with VIF.
But not everything is so beautiful. Having a positive cat requires being alert and having basic care. For example, if you already have a cat and want to take another home, it is essential that you have the AIDS and feline leukemia test. Although they are different diseases, both affect the immune system.
Leukemia - known as the disease of friendly cats, because a close relationship between positive animals is needed - is also spread by direct contact, especially by the saliva of sick cats, although it is also found in secretions such as feces, urine, blood and milk Hence, veterinarians warn that if you already have a cat and are going to take another home, do the test for AIDS and leukemia.
It is irresponsible to join two cats without knowing their status, taking into account that grooming, sharing sand and feeder are factors that increase the risk of infection. And if you already have a positive cat, it is best not to let him go out, as he is exposed to new diseases that can complicate his health by being lower in defense.
Almudena Savanna is a veteran. We are given a hint by a young Andalusian who for a while facilitated the adoption of cats with VIF. Almudena lives with three cats, two adopted and one in foster care until he finds a definitive home. One of those adopted I picked him up from the street, took him to the vet and he told him he was a positive. Even so, "they decided to keep it," he said, satisfied with the step taken. Then he took a kitten, also infected, who brought it from Cdiz to Madrid, where the physiotherapist works and resides. «It has been the best thing that happened to me, they know well what it is to suffer and maybe for that they are very grateful. They don't give problems, on the contrary, they give me joy every day. I control their health a lot and little else, ”Almudena concludes. Something similar happened to Iria and Diego when they decided to adopt Mirko, coming from the street and having the virus. With him they have been sharing a flat for four and a half years.
"I did not know about feline AIDS," admits the young Pontevedra whose idea is now to set up a shelter where cats with AIDS "can live with dignity" instead of being killed by a lethal injection.
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Who are more likely to suffer from this disease?
Feline AIDS is a disease that, because it is transmitted by contact with the blood, is more present among whole cats (bone that are not sterilized), usually males, that are free and semi-free and that fight for territory or females.
What is the treatment of feline AIDS?
In the acute and chronic phases of the disease it is necessary to make a supportive and control treatment of opportunistic diseases that may be present. Antibiotics, fluid therapy, etc., can be beneficial as long as the immune system is competent. In the asymptomatic carrier phase it is important to use antiviral as long as the patient does not have anemia. For this reason, an AIDS positive cat requires continuous veterinary attention. Thus the veterinarian will ensure that the cat can receive antiviral treatment without risking his health.
There are several drugs on the market that help stimulate the immune system, helping to prevent secondary infections and increasing defenses. In my experience, one of these is Citomix Guna, It has worked very well, giving my patients a better quality of life.
How to prevent?
In Colombia there is still no vaccine against this disease so preventive care must be even greater. Early sterilization, avoiding contact with many cats (especially if they have not been sterilized) and avoiding access to the street is essential to prevent infection.