How To Care For An FIV Infected Cat
Roger had Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, commonly known as FIV
I had to learn how to care for an FIV infected cat when Roger arrived in our life.
I'm not a veterinary expert, but I helped Roger to stay well and fit for 14 years, which is 14 years longer than recommended by the vet that wanted to euthanise him.
I want to pass on what I have learnt about caring for a cat with this virus, in the hope that other cat owners, and maybe even some vets will reassess their attitudes and approach to this issue. The most important fact to bear in mind is that cats with FIV can live a healthy and full life, and pose no danger to humans.
What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or Cat AIDS
In laymans terms:
Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV) was first discovered in the United States, where workers at a cat rescue centre noticed that some of the cats were showing similar clinical signs to people with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Detailed research has shown that FIV has spread world wide, and is very similar in nature to the AIDS virus, (HIV).
Like HIV, FIV can attack the immune system; leading to a decrease in white blood cells, which can compromise the cat's ability to fight off infections. Lowered immunity is the main cause of health problems, and shortened life span in FIV positive cats.
And here is the medical definition of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
"Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a lentivirus that affects domesticated housecats worldwide and is the causative agent of feline AIDS. From 2.5% up to 4.4% of cats worldwide, and about 2.5% of cats in the USA, are infected with FIV..."
Read the rest of the article in Wikipedia here: Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
You can't catch AIDS or FIV from me!
You cannot catch FIV or AIDS from an infected cat...
...but other cats can
FIV is species specific, so that means that it only infects cats, and cannot be passed to you or your children. Although similar, HIV or AIDS is not present in your cat, so you cannot aquire this virus from your cat either.
However, your cat can pass the FIV virus to other cats in certain circumstances, so it's worth understanding the process, so that you can take steps to eliminate the risk. I can't improve on this article from Cat Chat :
"The virus is present in the blood and saliva of infected cats. But, like HIV, it is a very 'fragile' virus, and cannot survive for long outside the body..."
Keep your cat happy
Cat, dog, human, fish, plants; we all flourish better without undue stress. Significant levels of stress have been shown to lower immunity to disease, decrease the ability to cope with unfavourable conditions and slow up healing time.
As the FIV cat's immune system is potentially less robust than optimum, reducing shocks, stress and anxiety if at all possible is a good idea.
The things that make a cat anxious are sometimes hard to understand, but usually boil down to a perceived threat to the status quo. Cats like things to stay the same, and that includes, territory, furniture, human habits, animal pecking orders etc. etc.
Changes and shocks are a source of stress, and whilst most cats adapt to changes fairly easily with a little help, stress in FIV cats can start a spiral of poor health that is hard to treat.
I have found the following things useful:
Keep your cat calm and happy with a Feliway diffuser
The Feliway Diffuser emits a synthetic copy of your cat's natural facial pheromone, used by felines to mark their territory as a place that is safe and secure. It is completely odorless, does not affect humans, but may improve cat owners lives by making stressed cats more relaxed and happy. This 48 oz. bottle bottle and plug-in unit covers up to 650 sq. ft. It
It is recommended for all situations that cause stress in a cat, from new environments to the addition of a new pet in the family. It will also help with urine marking, and is worth trying on any kind of abnormal or disturbed cat behaviour.
This product is not a drug or a tranquilizer. Feliway mimics the facial pheromone released by cats to calm and reassure other cats and this scent in a room will help relax and help your cat cope with any challenging or new situations.
Roger had a great life...
Here he is looking pretty gorgeous...
Roger lived with me for 14 years, and he always looked glossy, sleek and handsome.
The vet was genuinely amazed at how fit and gorgeous he looked on our check up visits, and although it is the case that well cared for FIV cats can live a long and healthy life, Roger was exceptional. Whatever we did certainly worked very well for him.
He was a bit strange in his seating choices, but whatever rocked his boat was o.k with me.
Keep your cat well nourished
and eating what he enjoys
FIV cats can lose their appetite, get digestion problems and become desperately thin and mal- nourished.
Roger didn't have a fancy prescribed diet:, I just made sure that he ate a varied diet, and that he ate, full stop. When I noticed that he had gone off food for more than a day, I tried a few tempters to get him going again. I worked out his favourites, and used them in rotation; prawns, coley, certain cat foods, but the best treat of all...whatever we were eating.
I always left a bowl of high nutrition cat biscuits out for snacking as sometimes he wouldn't eat in the day at all, but seemed to like to munch at night. Most well balanced cats regulate their eating well, so my other house cat didn't suffer from this easy access at all.
Keep your cat warm and dry
With low immunity, FIV cats need warmth and dry shelter. As Roger liked sitting in puddles and going out in the rain, I made sure I dried him off well when he came in wet.
If your cat is an outdoor cat then a heated, warm, dry shelter is a must.
Ignore advice to keep an FIV cat indoors
Oh the shock and horror from some who think all FIV cats should be kept indoors. I have even seen apparently caring cat rescue centres keeping these cats permanently in outdoor cages, following this particular theory.
Stray and uneutered Tom cats spread FIV through their need to fight other cats for territory and infrequently through sexual contact; their life expectancy is about 4.5 years.
If your cat is neutered he will be a gentle and peaceful sort, with no need to fight, wander or reproduce. Indoor and caged life is a sentence almost as bad as the disease itself...don't take any notice of this advice.
Consider a heated cat bed - for outdoor cats...or indoor cats come to that
Heated cat beds are fantastic. They are safe, use very little power, and make a huge difference to the life of an ill, elderly or outdoor cat.
You need to choose a product that suits your cat's particular situation. The main thing to bear in mind is that FIV cats are susceptible to chills and cold, and are less able to fight off illnessess than ordinary cats.
I also use an indoor heated bed for my cat Tutu, who suffers from arthritis...it has made a huge difference, and has meant she no longer needs painkillers
Regular vet check ups
steroids...and the vaccination debate
Without wanting to over prescribe treatments, it is important to have regular check ups. Go about once every 6 months, but if a problem does arise, go sooner rather than later. Small things that an ordinary cat can shrug off can become entrenched and life threatening in an FIV cat. It is much harder to treat infections in an FIV cat, so early intervention is essential.
There is disagreement amongst vets, but the majority advise against normal cat vaccinations. This is because the vaccination itself can be too powerful for the FIV cat to cope with.
Equally, most vets now think that any steroid based treatment is inadvisable as steroids suppress the immune system, and of course FIV cats have weak immune systems already.
An alternative that can help FIV cats...
...and their owners
I found Dr. Bach remedies effective with Roger...I frequently laced his water bowl with Dr. Bach Rescue Remedy for general health, Crab Apple for infections and Olive for endurance.
I have no proof that these things worked for him, but I tried anything that might give him an edge. Mabe they just made his 'mum' feel positive, and that in itself is good, because cats, like all animals, pick up and are affected by the general vibe around them.
I have used flower remedies for many years in many situations, and they truly seem to have saved the day more than once, so why not?
Dr. Bach's Rescue Remedy
Active Ingredients: 5x dilution of: Helianthemum Nummularium HPUS, Clematis Vitalba HPUS, Impatiens Glanduliferia HPUS , Prunus Cerasifera HPUS, Ornithogalum Umbellatum HPUS. Inactive Ingredient: Alcohol
This remedy is made from five of Dr. Bach's original 38 Flower Essences, and is a good stabilizer for humans, animals and plants in any traumatic situation.
Cherry Plum - Fear of mind giving way, verge of a breakdown
Clematis - For the tendency to "pass out"
Impatiens- For irritability, tension and fidgetiness
Rock Rose - For frozen terror and panic
Star of Bethlehem - For trauma and shock
I've used this so many times, in so many situations that I have lost count. What stands out is how somehow it helps things calm down and get sorted in the best way.
Ignore advice to have an FIV cat euthanised...
unless they are in real suffering
When I first found Roger as a stray, he was in a bad way. Scared of humans, covered in dirt, skeletal and hardly able to open infected eyes, I gradually gained his confidence with food and an outdoor kennel. Eventually I caught him and took him to my vet for treatment and neutering. My vet rang to tell me that he had been diagnosed with FIV, and asked whether I wanted to bother with the expense of neutering as he would be a lot of trouble, and would I like to have him 'put down' there and then.
I changed my vet after that. Roger got neutered, had a load of antibiotics to clear up his eye infection, and started on the long road to building up his strength and skinny frame. I have never regretted it for one moment, and would urge anyone to ignore any such callous and ridiculous advice.
Roger went on to live for 14 healthy, happy and graceful years. He was admired by all for his cool sang froid, sassy walk and elegant demeanour. He stayed loyal to the home that he found and was a gentle and remarkable soul.
Finally, Roger succumbed to a cancer. It came on very quickly and within a month he was gone. I had no doubts when the moment came for me to arrange for his euthanasia; he had beaten the odds over many years and had had a good life. His compromised immune system could not fight such a major event or the invasive treatments on offer. It seemed to me an awesome responsibility and a gift to give, that he could be spared a long drawn out and painful end.
The last word is from Roger... - and his house mate Tutu
Cats like me deserve a second chance. I became a stray somehow, and with no one to care for me, got ill. With care and a happy home I had a wonderful life. I am one of the lucky ones. Perhaps you can spread the word?