A collaborative and groundbreaking study is looking at naturally occurring FIV-infection in cats, with the aim of determining specific effects of the infection, as well as improving the long-term health of FIV cats both within and outside of the shelter system.
FIV, or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, is a slow virus that affects a cat’s immune system over a period of years (it is a cat-only disease and does not spread to humans or other non-feline animals). The Cornell Feline Health Center based out of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine describes the transmission of FIV:
The primary mode of transmission is through bite wounds. Casual, non-aggressive contact does not appear to be an efficient route of spreading FIV; as a result, cats in households with stable social structures where housemates do not fight are at little risk for acquiring FIV infections. On rare occasions infection is transmitted from an infected mother cat to her kittens, usually during passage through the birth canal or when the newborn kittens ingest infected milk. Sexual contact is not a major means of spreading FIV.
What is important to note, however, is that FIV does not mean a cat cannot live a perfectly long and healthy life. In traditional shelter settings, FIV-infected cats are usually euthanized immediately, largely because not a lot is known about the disease. Thankfully, a collaborative study between PAWS Chicago, Purdue University, Bristol University, Glasgow University, and the Fitzhugh B. Crews Cat Sanctuary is seeking to find out more about this infection.
The study follows 150 cats over a five-year span, and as the Fall/Winter 2010 Angel Tales Magazine explains, is the first of its kind to document natrually-infected, real-life cases. The magazine further enumerates the aims of this study:
- Investigate what actually happens to a cat when infected with HIV
- Understand the important clinical indicators that will predict whether the disease will progress or not
- Develop management practices that improve the long-term health of FIV-infected cats.
Dr. Annette Litster of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Purdue University makes note that 1.5-3% of healthy cats are infected with FIV and up to 15% of cats that are sick are FIV-infected — many of these cats are euthanized in shelters simply because of the FIV diagnosis. Results and evidence from this study can help reduce these deaths, Litster says, “by generating practical information regarding prognosis and optimal health manamgement practices for cats living with FIV.”
Locally, PAWS Chicago, a leader in shelter medicine, has been a big proponent of taking FIV-positive pets into their adoption center, and has seen great success in their adoption. These cats can make great pets and live long, healthy lives. For more information on FIV, check out the resources at the bottom of this article. Likewise, check out some of the FIV cats living at PAWS Chicago, and consider making one of these great cats your newest furry companion!
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus from Cornell University (includes info on living with FIV cats)
Best Friends Animal Society: Clearing the myths of FIV
Point Vicente Animal Hospital: Living with an FIV-positive cat