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FIV is a virus infection, similar to HIV - Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Note - People can not catch FIV and cats can not catch HIV.
FIV attacks and weakens the immune system so infected cats are at risk from other infections and diseases that healthy cats would easily fight off.
Much like a person with HIV a cat can be infected with FIV and enjoy a perfectly happy life for many years before developing the full disease.
Usually cats catch FIV by fighting and biting an FIV infected cat, this is why the most at risk groups of cats are entire males and stray/feral cats who are always getting into fights.
Middle aged and older cats seem to be more commonly infected than young cats.
Kittens born from an FIV mother are not always infected with the Virus. It seems most kittens who get the virus passed on from the mother are infected at some point after the birth, through the mothers milk, washing or when the mother cat bites through the umbilical cord.
Because FIV has a long incubation time between infection and the full blown disease most cats show no signs of illness at all before the disease sets in.
The Cats Protection League states that the clinical signs which occur most frequently in FIV related disease are:
FIV is diagnosed by taking a blood sample to look for antibodies against the virus.
Kittens under 6 months may give false positive results because of antibodies they have received from the mother, they should be tested after 6 months.
There is currently no Vaccine available in the UK
You might also be interested in our article on FeLV (Feline Leukaemia Virus)
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