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Monash Veterinary Clinic

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1662 Dandenong Rd
Oakleigh East, VIC 3166

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FIV - Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is the cat equivalent of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Like HIV in humans, cats infected with FIV will eventually be affected by a reduced ability to fight off infections due to an impaired immune system and will develop a condition known as feline AIDS. Responsible pet ownership and the recent introduction of a vaccine for FIV are important ways in which we can protect our cats from this debilitating disease.

FIV vaccination

The FIV vaccination is available at Monash Veterinary Clinic and can be given to cats to help prevent against FIV infection and hence the spread of FIV within the cat population. The FIV vaccine is usually given at the kitten or annual adult health checks.

In an unvaccinated cat, 3 FIV vaccinations are given 2-4 weeks apart and then as a yearly booster. In an unvaccinated cat greater than 6 months of age, it is recommended an FIV test be performed prior to commencing the FIV vaccination program as older cats are more likely to have been exposed to the virus especially if they can come into contact with other unknown cats. In addition, microchipping prior to or at the time of the first FIV vaccination is recommended as lost or missing cats which are picked up by some shelters may be tested for FIV using an in-clinic antibody test which cannot differentiate between a vaccinated and infected cat hence may be euthanased if ownership cannot be identified.


How is FIV transmitted between cats?

Cats are infected most commonly through biting during a cat fight, as the virus is present in saliva. Transmission during sexual contact is not considered to be a primary means of spread but rather male cats may become aggressive and bite the back or neck of the female during mating. Rarely, kittens may become infected from their mother during pregnancy or postnatally via her milk. Once a cat contracts FIV, it will remain infected and infectious to other cats for life.


Which cats are at risk of contracting FIV?

Adult, aggressive, free roaming male and feral cats are at the greatest risk of becoming infected with FIV. They are extremely territorial and will readily fight with other cats.


How common is FIV?

FIV can be found worldwide however, the prevalence in Australia is particularly high. Studies have shown between 7% and 32% of Aussie cats are FIV positive. Two other comparative studies between the USA and Australia found the prevalence of FIV in pet cats in Australia with outdoor access is 16% compared with only 4.3% in the USA. In the healthy cat population the rate of FIV infection is expected to be considerably lower.


What are the signs of FIV infection?

Cats can remain reasonably healthy after infection for varying amounts of time. You may not even suspect that your cat has been infected. Eventually however, cats infected with FIV will show a range of symptoms including:

  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss
  • Mouth and gum disease
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Persistent diarrhoea
  • Respiratory, urinary and skin infections

How is FIV diagnosed in a cat?

Whilst the only way to definitely diagnose FIV in a cat is to perform a special blood test, a veterinarian will often suspect a cat of having FIV based on their history and clinical signs. For example, a frequently or persistently sick adult male cat would be regarded as having a high probability of being affected with FIV and would warrant having an FIV blood test.

At Monash Veterinary Clinic, we have a quick and simple blood test available which detects antibodies in the cat’s blood to the FIV infection. This can be run on site at the clinic. 


What treatment is available for FIV?

Currently, once a cat has become infected with the FIV virus, there is no known treatment. Rapid supportive or palliative therapy can help with any secondary infections the cat may contract as a result of being FIV positive but will not cure the FIV itself.


Can FIV be prevented?

Yes. The two most effective ways to protect your cat against FIV are:

1. Keeping your cat indoors to avoid contact with other potentially infected cats

2. Vaccinating your cat with the FIV vaccination

In addition, castrating male cats will reduce their urge to be territorial and fight.

Is FIV transmissible from cat to human? Humans cannot become infected with FIV.