- Image courtesy of Vlado at freedigitalphotos.net/ Giving the feline immunodeficiency vaccine is appropriate depending upon individual cats, as it is not a panacea
Periodically, there is hype in the media about felines having feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), the feline form of HIV leading to a similar syndrome to AIDS.
The following information has been cited from MacCarthur Veterinary Group, in Australia.
However, there are a few factors that may need to be weighed before definitively deciding it is the best choice to have your cat immunised.
Firstly, there should be a realistic understanding of its prevalence - worldwide it is about 2 to 4 percent.
However, according to MacCarthur Veterinary Group, in Australia, the prevalence overall is a considerable 14 - 29%. Frequency is highest in Western Australia and New South Wales. Thus, cat owners may want to know the risk factors of your individual cat, to know if vaccinating it is warranted, as certain factors make transmission and infection more likely.
Two minor disadvantages of giving the FIV vaccination is that the vaccine is not necessarily efficacious in preventing all forms of the virus. There are 5 subtypes, according to MacCarthur Veterinary group, and the vaccine is efficacious in preventing subtype A of the virus. Also, it is requisite to give the cat or kitten 3 boosters of the vaccine, each within 2 to 4 weeks of each other. If the cat is in a low risk category - an indoors cat who lives with no other felines, for example, the trauma to the cat and the expense of the vaccines may outweigh the benefits of going through with the total regimen.
However, I am the first to say, that yes, if I believe if my cat is at risk, and it lives in an area where FIV is prevalent, then it should definitely be considered. After all, the implications for contracting the virus are parallel to that experienced by humans - a gradual deterioration of the immune system making the body a welcome host to opportunistic infections. Signs vary, from loss of appetite, diarrhea, conjunctivitis. However, any sick adult cat with no identifiable etiology should be tested.
In addition, your cat should be bound inside so as to risk spreading the infection. Problems are posed if you own two or more cats and one is infected. This in itself is a factor that may tilt the scales in favour of immunisation.
Other risk factors are being male (75% of cats who contract the virus are male), being an outdoor cat, and being a cat who engages in fights where deep wounds are inflicted. FIV is transmitted blood to blood, and rarely from cat to kitten. Scars are not generally cause for concern. If the wound is serious enough to bleed, you should definitely consider immunisation.
In addition, know that immunisation against FIV will produce seroantibodies within the cat's body. These can last up to four years. Thus, there is no distinguishing if the cat has FIV or if it has been vaccinated If the cat happens to run away and gets picked up by a shelter, they often automatically test for FIV, and if positive, the cat may be put down. To safeguard against this you may considered identifying your cat as vaccinated, particularly if it has a history of absconding. This is probably the biggest disadvantage to vaccinating if your cat is at low risk of contracting the virus.
Therefore, vaccination for FIV isn't a cause for hysteria, but yet apart from the knowledge it may not necessarily vaccinate it, it incurs many visits and fees, and the steps will be needed to stamp the cat has vaccinated in case it runs away makes it a prudent option if the cat carries enough risk factors described.
Cats who do test FIV positive shouldn't necessarily be put down. With regular visits to the vet for boosters, and wasting no time for treatment if your feline becomes sick, it can live a fairly normal life, with many years elapsing before it develops the full blown feline AIDS equivalent. Life is shortened but not dramatically. Cats should be kept inside, unless it lives with FIV negative cats, who should be vaccinated. This will prevent it getting sick from further fights, abscesses and the like and from spreading the virus.
A word on timing of the vaccine - it may take four weeks for an adult cat to test positive after infection. With kittens, it may test falsely positive for 6 months if antibodies are transmitted from the mother's milk. Time for testing should take this into account. And as mentioned, false negatives occur for four years after vaccination.
In conclusion, after considering the "pros and cons", which the cat owner may also like to discuss with the individual vet of the feline, you may feel in a position to make a balanced decision about whether the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Vaccine is a suitable preventative measure for your cat. Be sure to speak with your veterinarian to answer any questions you may have.
The statistical information in this article has been cited from MacCarthur Veterinary Group, in Australia.