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Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (F.I.V.) - Foxy's Story
Choosing the right cat
I have been an animal lover all my life, I love all animals, but I just adore cats. They are so independent and have such an air of royalty about them (or so they like to think!).
A few years ago, my partner and I decided that we would love to offer an animal a home. After weighing up all the possibilities of dogs, hamsters, etc we reached the decision that we would love to offer an older cat a home with us. We went along to our local animal shelter - "Leicester Animal Aid" where we were shown round the cattery. As it was not long after Christmas, they only had a few kittens which were already going to new homes. After explaining to the cattery supervisor that we would love to give an older cat a chance, we were taken to the outside pens. There was one cage with a house-like shed and a large run. We were told that this pen was inhabited by a large ginger tom cat named Foxy. My partner Chris and I called his name for a few minutes, and then......................the biggest cat I had ever seen appeared. He was not particularly overweight, but very long and tall. Part of his right ear was missing, probably due to a fight. We both stroked him through the wire cage and he purred so loudly it made us both laugh.
We wanted to know more about this gentle giant, "How old was he?", "Why was he alone?", "Why was he outside?" It started to rain quite heavily, Foxy ran into his little house and we were ushered inside to the office to learn more about him. Unfortunately, the staff knew little about his first year of life, as he was brought into the centre as a one year old stray, six years previously. Six years! I couldn't understand why no-one had adopted him as he was such a loving and friendly cat. It turned out that when he was first brought to the centre, he was diagnosed with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, and had to be isolated from the other cats. He had shared his living space with another male cat called Milky, who had sadly passed away a few weeks before. They had spent almost six years together and now Foxy had been forced to live all alone. We wanted to know all about FIV, did our research and got all the answers we needed. We contacted the cattery the following day and told them that we wanted Foxy to come and live with us. That was two years ago, and Foxy is doing well and is very happy in his new surroundings. He can't go outdoors or mix with other cats, but he doesn't seem to mind this at all. The whole family spoil him, and he gets all our attention. His favourite pastime is watching the squirrels from the window, and hissing at the birds on the feeding station.
What is F.I.V.?
It stands for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, which is similar to HIV in humans. FIV is a slow-acting virus which decreases the white blood cells, resulting in the cat not being able to fight off infections. A large percentage of cats can live a normal healthy life with no problems from their condition. The only was to detect if a cat has FIV is through a blood test.
The signs of F.I.V.
There are many signs of FIV, and these can vary greatly. Some cats may suffer bouts of diarrhoea, high temperature or conjuctivitis, which last a few weeks and can then disappear. The most common sign of FIV is gum inflammation, sneezing and discharge from the nose and/or eyes. Their coats may become dull and when brushed, you may find that their skin can become very dry. In a very small percentage of cases, the brain may be affected which may cause the animal to behave differently or act out of character at times.
At the moment, Foxy's only symptoms seems to be that he sneezes often and periodically suffers from a runny eye.
How do cats become infected?
The FIV virus is not one that is transmitted easily. It is found in the saliva and blood of an infected cat. When an infected cat bites another, it has to break the skin, draw blood and the saliva is then passed directly into the blood stream of the non-infected cat. Cat fights are the main cause of passing on the virus, and feral cats are most likely to spread the disease during territorial fights. There is no sure way to prevent your cat from catching the disease unless you have the cat from a kitten and keep it indoors all of its life. Many vets and researchers have studied FIV over the years, but it has never been proven that infected cats can spread the disease sexually.
Caring for a cat with FIV
These are a few points to remember when caring with a cat which has Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.
- Ensure that your cat has regular veterinary check ups.
- Keep your cat indoors to avoid infecting other cats.
- Ensure he/she has a health diet to help with their immune system. (Always seek your vet's advice).
- Keep your cat stress-free as this can have an effect on their health.
- Keep the house a one-cat home only. It is not a good idea to have a healthy cat and an FIV cat living together.
- As infected cats cannot go outdoors, they will need plenty of attention and fuss, to prevent them from becoming bored.
- Always be vigilant and report any signs of illness to your vet immediately.
The stigma attached to FIV cats
The decision to adopt Foxy, for us was a very easy one to make. I knew that if I hadn't have re-homed him, he would have lived a very sad solitary life. There is a lot of stigma surrounding FIV cats. Some people even believed that the virus could be passed from Foxy to my daughter, which is utter nonsense as cats can only pass the virus onto other cats. Many people also believe that their life expectancy will also be cut short by having this disease. As a family, we looked into every aspect of Foxy's condition and took veterinary advice. With love, care and regular health check-ups, an FIV cat can go on to life a full and healthy life. It is not uncommon for an infected cat to live to 15 years old. Foxy will be 9 years old this year and my daughter is throwing him a party, we don't know his exact birthday, but she will hold it on Halloween, and we all have to dress up as a cat!