Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Dangerous Myths Surrounding FIV

Mr. Grey is FIV positive but he is still very
friendly with people and other cats and is
hoping to be adopted into a loving home.
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are, as their names suggest, fairly similar diseases - though they affect different species - and their similarities are not limited to their physical effects. Just as both are retroviruses that use the cells of the host’s body to replicate themselves and can result in immune deficiencies, both diseases are burdened with stigma.

Common practice holds that cats diagnosed with FIV are hopeless cases at best and a danger to those around them at worst. Based on these assumptions, veterinarians and caretakers often suggest euthanasia for FIV positive cats. However, common practice is not always consistent with the facts. The majority of FIV positive cats live long, healthy lives, and when fighting is eliminated, the risk of transmitting the disease to other cats is virtually nonexistent. In this case, misconceptions about the disease have created a deadly situation for infected cats.

Countless studies and testimonies from owners show that FIV positive cats are far from hopeless cases. 

Though the disease can be fatal, infection does not mean that a cat is resigned to death. Like its human counterpart, FIV acts slowly, multiplying in the lymph nodes and progressively weakening the immune system. This leaves infected cats less able to fight off infections and other viruses.

However, if cats are kept in an indoor environment where their exposure to pathogens is limited, they can survive and remain healthy for years. Cats are also typically not diagnosed until the late stages of the disease, so cats with FIV often live completely symptom-free for many years before their immune system is compromised.

Notably, a diagnosis of FIV does not even necessarily mean that a cat is infected. Cats who are vaccinated against the disease also test positive because they carry the antibodies that protect them from the disease. Currently, tests can’t tell the difference.

A diagnosis of FIV does not lead to a short and painful life, and it also does not threaten all healthy cats nearby. FIV predominantly spreads through deep bites and scratch wounds, though infected mothers can also pass it on to their kittens in rare circumstances. Studies have not found any evidence that non-aggressive contact, such as licking, grooming and sharing food/water, leads to exposure.

Subsequently, FIV positive cats can live with FIV negative cats, without transferring the disease. As long as cats do not fight with each other, there is no reason to rehome anyone. And the problem of cat aggression has a solution. Spaying or neutering a cat will make him/her less competitive with other cats and therefore less aggressive. Sterilizing cats greatly reduces fighting.

Buff is also a sweet FIV positive cat who 
has lived with other cats for years and
is now looking for a forever home.
Humans cannot become sick from a cat with FIV, and other cats can only acquire the disease in rare circumstances. Additionally, though it may seem natural that more feral cats would be FIV positive because of their exposure to more cats, studies have shown that the prevalence of the disease is comparable among both owned and free-roaming cats. It's estimated that only between two and four percent of the cat population is FIV positive.

FIV is a dangerously misunderstood disease. It is possible for cats, both feral and owned, to live long lives with the disease. Spaying and neutering is an effective way to prevent the spread of the disease, by stopping both aggression and the passing on of the disease to offspring. Infection is only a death sentence to FIV positive cats if veterinarians continue to euthanize them without fully understanding their disease and considering their chance for survival. Please help dispel the myths of FIV by educating those around you; it just might save a life. 

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