Cats & FIV

Dis­pelling the mis­con­cep­tions and find­ing these de­serv­ing cats homes

Modern Cat - - Contents - BY TRACEY TONG

Dis­pelling the mis­con­cep­tions and find­ing these de­serv­ing cats homes.

Af­ter fail­ing to find a home at a res­cue in Kirk­land, Wash­ing­ton, a friendly grey long-haired cat named Win­ter found her way to Best Friends An­i­mal Sanc­tu­ary in Kanab, Utah, the largest no-kill sanc­tu­ary for com­pan­ion an­i­mals and wildlife in the United States. But even there, Win­ter re­mained over­looked; though very pop­u­lar at the sanc­tu­ary, she failed to find a for­ever home.

This is when Jenn Cor­sun, the man­ager of Cat World at the Sanc­tu­ary, stepped up to give the FIV-pos­i­tive cat the home she so de­served.

“I’d had my eye on her for a while,” Jenn ad­mits. Win­ter, who is also in­con­ti­nent, is now liv­ing hap­pily in Jenn’s home with 11 other cats.

“I’ve been tak­ing my work home with me for 20 years,” Jenn half-jokes. “I try to con­cen­trate on cats that wouldn’t oth­er­wise find a home. It’s very re­ward­ing work.”

One of Jenn’s pas­sions is dis­pelling mis­in­for­ma­tion sur­round­ing FIV-pos­i­tive cats. By do­ing so, she hopes she can help more cats like Win­ter find a home.

FIV—Fe­line Im­mun­od­e­fi­ciency Virus—is a fe­line-only lentivirus. First dis­cov­ered in 1986, FIV weak­ens a cat's im­mune sys­tem, which means that a cat with FIV is more prone to get­ting in­fec­tions such as up­per res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions, ring­worm, and den­tal dis­ease than a cat with­out the virus.

But please don’t let that scare you. There are many mis­con­cep­tions sur­round­ing FIV, among them that an FIV-pos­i­tive cat should not come in con­tact with cats with­out FIV.

Jenn, who is as aware as she is ed­u­cated, has no wor­ries that Win­ter will spread the FIV to her other, FIV-neg­a­tive cats. Once thought to be deadly and highly con­ta­gious, it has since been found to be nei­ther. For one, it is not as eas­ily spread as once be­lieved. An in­fected mother cat can trans­fer FIV an­ti­bod­ies to her kit­tens, which may test pos­i­tive from their mother’s an­ti­bod­ies un­til they have cleared them from their sys­tems, which hap­pens by six months of age. Kit­tens should be re-tested for an­ti­bod­ies at a later date to see if they are still in­fected. But the most com­mon route of in­fec­tion is a deep bite wound from an FIV-pos­i­tive cat to an­other cat.

“If cats don’t fight, then the risk of trans­mis­sion is ex­tremely low,” says Jenn. This is why FIV-pos­i­tive cats can live with FIV-neg­a­tive cats, as long as they don’t show signs of ag­gres­sion.

Vets used to rec­om­mend eu­thana­sia for FIV-pos­i­tive cats. Sim­i­larly, shel­ters used to rou­tinely eu­th­a­nize all cats that tested pos­i­tive for FIV an­ti­bod­ies. To­day, FIV is not con­sid­ered the death sen­tence it once was, and it is known that many cats can live long and healthy lives with FIV. De­spite this, “there is still a stigma around FIV cats,” says Jenn. “We’re work­ing hard to get rid of these stig­mas and it’s be­com­ing a lit­tle eas­ier now, but it’s still mis­un­der­stood.”

Part of it is that there is con­fu­sion be­tween FIV and fe­line leukemia, which is a more se­ri­ous and lethal ill­ness that dras­ti­cally short­ens a cat’s life span. “If a kit­ten is born with leukemia, its life span is about 18 months, while cats can live to an old age with FIV,” Jenn says. FIV is so slow to progress that many FIV-pos­i­tive cats die of old age. Per­haps an­other rea­son for the stigma is that FIV is the same class of virus as HIV. “I think that scares peo­ple as well, but FIV can only be trans­ferred from cat to cat, and not to hu­mans or to other an­i­mals.”

Di­ag­nosed by a blood test which looks for the pres­ence of an­ti­bod­ies to the virus, FIV can be de­tected as early as two to four weeks af­ter ex­po­sure, but cats with FIV may not show any symp­toms for years. Symp­toms can in­clude en­larged lymph nodes, fever, ane­mia, weight loss, poor ap­petite, di­ar­rhea, in­flam­ma­tion of the eye, den­tal dis­ease, skin red­ness or hair loss, wounds that don’t heal, sneez­ing, dis­charge from the eyes or nose and fre­quent uri­na­tion.

There is no spe­cific an­tivi­ral treat­ment for FIV. Treat­ment fo­cuses mainly on ex­tend­ing the asymp­to­matic pe­riod or, if symp­toms have set in, easing the sec­ondary ef­fects of the virus. Al­though a vet­eri­nar­ian may pre­scribe treat­ments, in­clud­ing med­i­ca­tion for sec­ondary in­fec­tions, fluid and elec­trolyte re­place­ment ther­apy, an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory drugs, im­mune-sup­port sup­ple­ments and par­a­site con­trol, cats that have tested pos­i­tive don’t re­quire spe­cial care other than the owner need­ing to watch them more closely if they have a cold. That said, if the dis­ease re­mains unchecked, cats with FIV can de­velop var­i­ous forms of can­cer, blood dis­eases or kid­ney fail­ure. “They can have a good qual­ity of life,” Jenn says. “We just have to treat ill­nesses as they arise.”

Of the 550 cats they cur­rently house, Best Friends has 224 cats re­quir­ing 565 in­di­vid­ual treat­ments—which range from giv­ing a pill to sub­cu­ta­neous flu­ids—daily. Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, the most med­i­cally needy cats are not the FIV-pos­i­tive cats.

“FIV pos­i­tive cats are not the high­est main­te­nance cats out there by far,” Jenn says. “The high­est main­te­nance cats are the in­con­ti­nent cats… and we have some be­havioural cats that take more care than FIV cats as a group. FIV-pos­i­tive cats do not re­quire more care than non-FIV-pos­i­tive cats.”

Pro­tec­tion of cats from FIV is sim­ple. Be­cause any free-roam­ing cat is sus­cep­ti­ble to the dis­ease, own­ers are en­cour­aged to keep their pets in­doors. Al­though FIV vac­cines are avail­able, Best Friends does not rec­om­mend it, as it is not ef­fec­tive for all cats, and af­ter the cat is vac­ci­nated for FIV, it will test pos­i­tive for the virus. If that cat is lost and ends up in a shel­ter, it may be eu­th­a­nized be­cause of a false pos­i­tive test. Jenn hopes this won’t be the case for long. “I think ed­u­ca­tion (about FIV) is im­prov­ing,” says Jenn. “I think the more ed­u­cated peo­ple are about FIV, the less afraid they be­come.”

At Best Friends, Jenn re­cently for­mal­ized a new pol­icy re­gard­ing FIV-pos­i­tive cats at Cat World. Cats are cau­tiously and slowly moved from FIV-ded­i­cated rooms into the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. “Hope­fully, we’ll have data that these cats have been liv­ing to­gether and that there has been no trans­mis­sion,” she says. If that’s the case, the or­ga­ni­za­tion will be spread­ing the word in or­der to in­crease aware­ness of how the dis­ease is spread.

She wants peo­ple to know that if FIV-pos­i­tive cats are gen­tle with other cats, their po­ten­tial homes are lim­it­less (with a “nice, slow in­tro­duc­tion, as for all cats, of course,” she says). At the very least, they can be adopted to live as sin­gle cats in a home, or to live with other FIV cats. Most of all, there is no need for an FIV-pos­i­tive cat to lan­guish in a shel­ter.

“I think any­one who loves cats and is able to give a cat good home can adopt an FIV-pos­i­tive cat,” Jenn says. “There are still a lot of FIV-pos­i­tive cats in shel­ters. I would en­cour­age peo­ple to give a sec­ond look to an FIV-pos­i­tive cat. Just be­cause a cat is FIV-pos­i­tive shouldn’t de­ter them.”

FIV-pos­i­tive cats at the san­cu­tary.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.