By: Dr. Jane Matheys
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance
During my years as a vet and a pet insurance enthusiast, I’ve seen many handsome cats– but “Joe” was among one of the most handsome. Joe was a black 9-year-old who came to see me because his owner noticed his eye was bloodshot. It had been going on for 3 or 4 days, but Joe seemed to be eating well and acted fine otherwise.
Upon examination, I did indeed see blood in Joe’s right eye, but not in the way the owner had described it. The blood was inside the eye, not in the white part of the eye that we refer to as being bloodshot. The blood was actually behind the cornea, sitting on the iris, or colored part of the eye. There was also a moderate amount of pus floating in the eye next to the blood. The abnormal pressure was distorting the size and shape of the pupil and pushing it toward the inner corner of the eye.
These changes indicated a cat health condition called uveitis which is inflammation of the inner pigmented structures of the eye. The eyes are often referred to as a window to the soul, and likewise, they can often be a window into what is going on medically elsewhere in the body. Uveitis is most often caused by some underlying infection or systemic illness.
I had a hunch as to what illness was causing Joe’s uveitis, and blood tests confirmed my suspicions. Joe was infected with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).
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FIV belongs to the same family of viruses as HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). However, FIV is not transmissible from cats to people, and HIV is not transmissible from people to cats. The primary mode of transmission of FIV is through bite wounds. Therefore outdoor cats, especially territorial tomcats, are at greatest risk of infection. The virus is only rarely spread through casual contact. However, female cats infected with FIV during their pregnancy can pass the virus to their unborn kittens.
Infected cats may appear normal for years. The virus slowly depresses the function of the cat’s immune system, leading to chronic pet health problems and opportunistic infections. Many FIV-positive cats have chronic inflammatory conditions of the teeth and mouth. Other chronic problems include diarrhea, pneumonia, skin disease, weight loss and wasting, eye diseases (like with Joe), neurological problems, and cancer.
FIV is diagnosed by using a blood test that detects antibodies against the virus in the bloodstream of the cat. A confirmatory test called a Western Blot test is recommended to be sure of the diagnosis. I recommend testing all cats being introduced into a household to prevent exposing any existing cats to the virus. Kittens under 6 months of age may carry antibodies to FIV acquired from their mother without having the virus itself. Therefore, any kitten under this age that tests positive should be retested when it is over 6 months old.
There is no cure for FIV infection. Although the disease is considered fatal, many cats with the infection can live for many months or years with relatively few pet health issues. With proper health care aimed at recognizing and treating FIV-associated problems early, patients can enjoy good quality of life. All efforts should be taken to preserve their health by protecting them against other disease and injury. This is best accomplished by requiring FIV-positive cats to live indoors. This also helps prevent spread of the disease.
Vaccines to help protect against FIV infection are available. However, not all vaccinated cats will be protected by the vaccine, so preventing exposure will remain important, even for vaccinated pets. In addition, vaccination may have an impact on future FIV test results.
Joe’s blood work showed that his immune system was still functioning well. He was treated with antibiotics and topical steroids in his eye and he is responding nicely. I’m not sure when Joe was infected with FIV, so his long term prognosis is unclear. He is currently feeling well and enjoying life, so that’s what matters most to his owners. I will continue to closely monitor Joe’s health and hope that he has many good days ahead.
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