Immunodeficiency in cats is a disease that, as feline keepers, we have surely heard of, but about which there are still many doubts.
If you suspect that your cat may suffer from immunodeficiency (also known as AIDS) and you want to know the symptoms and how to act in case of suffering from it, we will explain everything below.
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What is feline immunodeficiency?
Immunodeficiency is a viral disease that affects the immune system of cats. And this is the first aspect that we must take into account: immunodeficiency is an exclusive disease of them, so they can be spread between cats but they will not transmit it to other animals or humans .
Therefore, despite its similarity to HIV , it is not a zoonosis, it is not feasible to transmit it from cats to humans or vice versa.
Immunodeficiency symptoms in kittens
As we have said, immunodeficiency involves the weakening of the immune system. Therefore, it is not that this disease causes certain symptoms, but that it weakens the entire organism , making the cat prone to suffering from all kinds of diseases.
Thus, the symptoms will be nonspecific. In any case, it is possible to distinguish several phases in the course of this disease, which are as follows:
- The initial, acute or primary phase is the one that develops during the first months after the infection of the virus. We can notice that the cat is not well, has a fever and enlarged lymph nodes. Some cats get worse until the terminal phase of the disease, but it is normal for them to recover.
- In the second phase, the asymptomatic, the cat is apparently healthy, although the virus continues to spread in the body. It can last for years and some cats stay that way for life.
- The third phaseis marked by the appearance of symptoms due to the direct effect of the virus, always highly variable and nonspecific. If the cat becomes ill and does not fully recover, we can begin to suspect immunodeficiency. Its duration varies from months to years.
- Finally, in the last phase, also of variable duration, the general physical condition of the cat will worsen, showing weight loss, anorexia , fever, rhinitis, dermatitis, anemia, conjunctivitis and, very commonly, gingivitis. The cat’s immune system no longer works, it cannot cope with any of these diseases and it dies.
AIDS transmission between cats
This disease is spread by the bite of an infected cat. Therefore, the cats most affected by immunodeficiency will be the oldest whole males with access to the outside, since they are the ones most likely to fight with others over the delimitation of territory and access to females in heat. .
Transmission from mothers to kittens also seems feasible . The virus is present in saliva, so it would be possible to transmit it between cats that live together, groom themselves and use the same feeders.
Diagnosis of feline immunodeficiency
If we pick up a cat from the street or ours can go in and out, it is recommended that we do tests to find out if it suffers from the disease . In the same way, a cat with a bad appearance, recurrent diseases or that have not been cured should include immunodeficiency in its differential diagnosis.
The veterinarian can perform several tests to find out if a cat is affected by immunodeficiency. Nowadays, a quick test is usually used that allows obtaining the result in a few minutes . In addition, by detecting antibodies, in the same test it is possible to know if the cat suffers from feline leukemia .
To do this test, the vet will extract a few drops of blood from our cat from its front paw. You will put the sample in the test and, in minutes, it will mark a line for the positive cats and none for the negative ones.
We must know that this test can give false results. In doubtful cases the veterinarian will resort to other tests with greater specificity.
Treatment of immunodeficiency in kittens
As it is a viral disease, it is not curable , but it is treatable in order to maintain a good quality of life. Interferon is used to aid the immune response and interfere with the replication of the virus. The problem is its high cost.
To support the immune system, it is important to keep the cat in a stress- free environment , go to the vet immediately to treat any symptoms, and offer it a quality diet including healthy nutritional supplements . Vaccines are being tested but there are none yet in Europe.
Life expectancy of a cat with AIDS
With feline immunodeficiency we can find ourselves faced with two scenarios: that of sick cats and that of cats that, even being positive in the test, do not manifest any symptoms. In these cases, the cat will lead a completely normal life for many years, that is, it will remain in the second phase of the disease.
This is important to keep in mind because a diagnosis of immunodeficiency is not synonymous with euthanasia .
A cat with HIV at home
An immunodeficient cat cannot have access to the outside, since it is contagious for other cats and, in addition, it would be susceptible to injuries that, by stressing its weakened immune system, would put it in danger.
On the other hand, if we have more than one cat and we discover that one of them is positive for this disease, the ideal would be to separate them but, if there are no bites between them, we feed them in different feeders and clean them after use, contagion will be difficult. . The virus survives for a very short time in the environment.
Of course, before putting cats together, they must be subjected to the immunodeficiency and leukemia test, a test that can be carried out from 4-6 months of age, since beforehand it can give a false result due to interference with maternal antibodies.