Skip to main content

Feline AIDS

roaming stray tom cat
This roaming stray tom cat, Timmy, is more prone to feline aids but he is healthy at the moment. Snoozing after a human sized meal. Photo copyright Michael


The virus that causes feline aids is related to the virus that causes human aids. The term "AIDS" stands for "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome". The term "aids" is a commonly used non-technical term. Another more scientific term is "Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Infection" or "FIV" for short.

From the name of the disease we know that feline aids amounts to a deficient immune system caused by a virus. The virus is a "retrovirus". A retrovirus is different to a "normal" virus in that it has to convert (reverse transcription) RNA to DNA before insertion into the host cell. Once inserted it clones itself in the same way a virus does. The transcription process is not that accurate so different forms of the virus are created making it difficult to treat. It is the reason why flu vaccines don't work most of the time on HIV infections (src: Yahoo Answers thanks to ksveb01).

The feline aids virus is a lentivirus. These are viruses with a long incubation period and they are part of the Retroviridae family.

The feline immunodeficiency virus was discovered in California in 1986 (or 1987?). In research work carried out at the University of Florida and released in 2005, a possible link between the feline aids virus and the human version was found. A vaccination designed for human AIDS was found to provide equal protection for cats (src: / The two viruses are breed specific, however meaning that HIV does not produce feline aids and visa-versa.

Feline Aids - How common is it?
In the USA, 1-3% of cats - higher levels in outdoor male cats of 5-10 years of age.

Feline Aids - Signs Symtoms

Initial acute symptoms:

--swelling of lymph nodes, which are part of the immune system. They filter/trap foreign particles
--low white cell count (white cells - leukocytes - are also part of the immune system providing a defense against foreign invading objects)
--skin infections

The disease progresses from the early acute signs (above) to latency (up to 3 years) to the chronic phase, the symptoms of which are:

--general ill heath
--severe mouth/gum disease
--loss of appetite
--loss of weight
--URIs (Upper Respiratory Infections)
--ear canal infections
--URIs (Urinary Tract Infections)

The large range of illnesses associated with feline AIDS (to be expected as the cat's immune system is severely compromised) are also similar to those that accompany:

--feline leukemia
--severe malnutrition (starvation)
--drug treatments that have as a side effect the suppression of the immune system

Testing for feline aids requires care and includes ELISA, IFA and Western Blot Immunoassay testing. This is exclusively a veterinarian's area of operation.

Treatment for feline aids is probably something the layperson knows a bit about as treatment for human aids is well publicized. In short millions of pounds and dollars are being spent on research (you wonder sometimes if the companies involved in research have a vested interest in not finding a cure or vaccine as it is big business). As of the date of this post I don't know of a cure for human aids and therefore the same applies to feline aids.

It seems that FIV cats are involved in animal testing. I am against animal testing but in this instance it would seem acceptable. AZT is used on people. AZT is more toxic to cats and can cause anemia and liver damage in high dosage. Results are it seems disappointing.

The best "treatment" is preventative action. Roaming and fighting toms are more prone to feline aids. Neutering male cats and keeping a degree of control over our cats is the better course of action. An indoor life with a large cat enclosure is probably the best compromise if workable.

From Feline aids to cat health problems

Feline aids - Sources:
  1. As stated in the text
  2. Wikipedia for definitions
  3. Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin


Popular posts from this blog

Cat Ear Mites

Brown gunge. Yes, I know this is a ferret! It does show the build up of dark brown to black ear wax caused by the presence of the cat ear mites in the outer ear canal. This parasite is not restricted to the domestic cat, which makes this photo valid and a useful illustration (I was unable to find a suitable photo of a cat with the condition). Photo Stacy Lynn Baum under a creative commons license. Ear mites (minute crab like creatures) are one of the causes of inflammation of the outer ear canal (scientific term for this inflammation is Otitis externa ). The outer ear canal is the tube that runs from outside to the ear drum (the pathway for the reception of sound), which can be seen when looking at the ear. Otitis externa affects humans and often swimmers as it is called "swimmer's ear" in humans. This YouTube video show ear mites under a microscope. They are not actually in the ear in this video. There are many possible causes of Otitis externa in c

Feline Mange

I'll write about three types of feline mange (a) feline scabies or head mange (b) demodectic mange and (c) sarcoptic mange. The source material is from Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook - the best on the market . Generalised feline mange? Puerto Rico - Photo by Gotham City Lost And Found Feline Scabies - head mange Head mange or feline scabies, is a fairly rare condition in cats, which is caused by the Notoedres mite (head mite) that only reproduces on cats. The female mites burrow a few millimeters (that is a lot) into the skin around the head, and neck to lay eggs, which hatch and lay their own eggs. Their presence and activities causes intense itching that in turn causes the cat to scratch. The scratching will obviously be noticed and it will cause the skin to become red, scratched and worse infected. Symptoms: hair loss and scabs, thick wrinkled skin and grey/yellow crusts form plus the symptoms of scratching. Feline mange (head mange) is contagious and tr

Cat Anatomy

Cat Anatomy - Photo by Curious Expeditions . The picture above was taken at Wax Anatomical Models at La Specola in Florence, Italy. The photograph is published under a creative commons license kindly granted by the photographer. I am sorry if it is a bit gruesome. It is pretty well all I could find as an illustration that was licensed for publication. Cat Anatomy is a very wide ranging subject. The anatomy of a cat is very similar to human anatomy. If you were writing a biology book for students of biology you would go through every part of the a cat's anatomy in some detail. It would be similar to writing a book about the human anatomy. It would be a thick book and pretty boring for your average internet surfer. So, how do you limit such a big subject and make this post meaningful? The answer I think lies in doing two things: Having a quick general look at cat anatomy - an overview and; Focusing on the areas of cat anatomy that are particular to the cat and of parti