There are three major feline diseases. Most cats that are ill will have something routine and treatable. But you should know the facts about these as well, just in case. You might hear about these when you go to the vet, they are FIV, FeLV and FIP. This will be just an overview, but perhaps it can answer some questions.
FIV – FIV is the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus attacks white blood cells, and destroys the immune system. People have often equated it, in that sense, to HIV.
But you need to know and remember:
- FIV cannot be transmitted to humans ever.
- HIV cannot be transmitted to felines.
- If a cat has FIV, it does not mean the cat has AIDS
- FIV, HIV and AIDS are not all the same disease
- FIV does destroy the immune system, like HIV does. It leaves the cat open to all kinds of opportunistic infections, and the cat has difficulty fighting those infections off. But the diseases do not progress the same way at all.
Cats get infected with FIV by fighting. The disease goes in through the bloodstream via deep puncture wounds. This is why male cats who are not neutered and who are outside roaming are at the highest risk.
These males commonly get into aggressive, territorial fights with other males. So, one infected cat bites another cat, and then transmits the virus.
Up until about 10 years ago, most veterinarians would have said that an FI diagnosis meant the cat needed to be euthanized immediately. That is not so anymore. It is still a relatively new disease. FIV was only discovered within the last 20 years, so there is much still to be learned about it.
There will always be some actions needed on your part, though. FIV cats must stay inside. They cannot risk exposure to any other unknown cats and infections. Catching a simple cold can be a disaster for an FIV cat, as they can’t fight it off and it can rapidly go into serious pneumonia. The FIV cat needs to see the vet several times a year. FIV tends to create a lot of “nuisance problems” for the cat, like chronic sinus trouble, skin problems, chronic gingivitis, fluid in the ears, skin problems, and thick, brittle claws.
They can also be at risk for an uncomfortable, though not life-threatening form of mange. It is a type that usually only dogs get, called demodex mange. Cats are almost never at risk for this uncomfortable, itchy condition…unless they are FIV cats, when the compromised immune system makes it possible.
Most of the care needed is maintenance care. There is no cure for the disease. But if an FIV cat has a loving and safe home and family, excellent nutrition, medicines when needed, regular dental screenings, a totally indoor life, and a doctor who is informed about FIV, then that cat can live for many years. Some cats carry the virus but never become symptomatic. Some take years to become symptomatic. Some, of course, deal with more severe bouts with the virus early on. An FIV cat can live with another cat, so long as neither cat is aggressive toward the other. Playing won’t transmit it. The bite would need to be an aggressive bite – a deep puncture wound.
If you are told your cat has FIV, you need not panic or think this means the cat will soon die. Most vets know the disease is manageable, and that the cat’s quality of life has every chance of being good, so long as her symptoms are treated, and her family is committed to her and her ongoing care. That is why it will be so important, if you care for an FIV cat, to pay attention to what is communicated.
Always watch for the little signs like sniffling and sneezing, itchy red skin, loss of appetite, fluid in the ears, trouble breathing, thick or abnormal saliva, any unusual swelling, change in litter box habits or behavioural habits, or anything else that you see that worries you. Getting to the vet early on helps to beat a lot of the symptoms while they are still very manageable.
FELV – This is the Feline Leukaemia Virus. It is a blood cancer which results in tumours throughout the body. FeLV is spread more easily than FIV. It is spread through saliva. So, if cats share a food dish or a water dish, or if they hiss at each other, the disease can transmit from one cat to another.
FeLV cannot be transmitted to humans. Though FeLV is ultimately fatal to the cat, a vaccine does exist to prevent it. That means that, if your cat goes outside, or if he sits in the window at the screen, or he hangs out on a screen porch where other cats can come up and go nose to nose with him through that screen, he should have the vaccine annually.
Sometimes, certain cats will incubate the disease for years, until it breaks. FeLV cats have weak immune systems. They must stay inside at all times. If they go outside, they will infect other cats.
FIP – FIP is Feline Infectious Peritonitis. FIP is rare and it is harsh. There are some people who do not euthanize their FIP cats, who keep them and try to manage the symptoms. But FIP is a tough disease. FIP is always fatal. It is also quite rare. There is a common corona virus that all cats carry. Of these cats, only about 1% will break and become FIP symptomatic. Very young cats and geriatric cats are most at risk. FIP symptoms can onset quickly.
The virus will either fill the cat’s belly with fluid, or fill the lungs with fluid. Or, it will attach onto vital organs in the form of lesions.
FIP is difficult to detect and diagnose. There is a test, but it can be inconclusive in many cases. There is a nasal vaccine that is not yet widely used and, vets can disagree about its actual effectiveness. There is a shortage of information because the disease is a more recent discovery.
It is known that FIP transmitted from nose to nose, though saliva and the disease can be shed out through the fur. Humans cannot get FIP.
FIP does not have a good prognosis, and by the time a cat has broken with the symptoms, it is near the end.
Again, this tragic disease is rare. Symptoms would include the cat being very lethargic, having a swollen or distended, fluid filled abdomen, and difficulty breathing. As with all suspicious symptoms, if something worries you that your cat is displaying or doing, always pay close attention and ask your vet to take a look at your cat as soon as is possible.