Overview: Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a retrovirus closely related to human immunodeficiency virus. Most felids are susceptible to FIV, but humans are not. Feline immunodeficiency virus is endemic in domestic cat populations worldwide. The virus loses infectivity quickly outside the host and is susceptible to all disinfectants.
Infection: Feline immunodeficiency virus is transmitted via bites. The risk of transmission is low in households with socially well-adapted cats. Transmission from mother to kittens may occur, especially if the queen is undergoing an acute infection. Cats with FIV are persistently infected in spite of their ability to mount antibody and cell-mediated immune responses.
Disease signs: Infected cats generally remain free of clinical signs for several years, and some cats never develop disease, depending on the infecting isolate. Most clinical signs are the consequence of immunodeficiency and secondary infection. Typical manifestations are chronic gingivostomatitis, chronic rhinitis, lymphadenopathy, weight loss and immune-mediated glomerulonephritis.
Diagnosis: Positive in-practice ELISA results obtained in a low-prevalence or low-risk population should always be confirmed by a laboratory. Western blot is the 'gold standard' laboratory test for FIV serology. PCR-based assays vary in performance.
Disease management: Cats should never be euthanased solely on the basis of an FIV-positive test result. Cats infected with FIV may live as long as uninfected cats, with appropriate management. Asymptomatic FIV-infected cats should be neutered to avoid fighting and virus transmission. Infected cats should receive regular veterinary health checks. They can be housed in the same ward as other patients, but should be kept in individual cages.
Vaccination recommendations: At present, there is no FIV vaccine commercially available in Europe. Potential benefits and risks of vaccinating FIV-infected cats should be assessed on an individual cat basis. Needles and surgical instruments used on FIV-positive cats may transmit the virus to other cats, so strict hygiene is essential.