Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or Feline AIDS is a common feline retrovirus infecting New Zealand cats. It is similar to Human AIDS or HIV causing immunosuppression which leads to diseases such as oral infections and cancer. Caught through bite wounds in fighting cats, New Zealand has one of the highest rates of FIV positive cats in the world. High-risk animals would include tom cats, breeds that tend to fight (Abyssinians, Burmese, Rex) and potentially all outdoor cats. In New Zealand infection rates vary, current research estimates 5-15% of New Zealand cats become infected with this life-threatening disease.
Recently a new vaccination, Fel-O-Vax FIV (Fort Dodge), has been developed to protect against Feline AIDS. This vaccine is a very important model in the fight against HIV.
The vaccine was developed to protect against FIV Subtype A and D (there are 5 different Subtypes of FIV: A, B, C, D and E). In New Zealand, the most common subtypes found are Subtype A and C. With a high prevalence of Subtype C in NZ research is currently being undertaken to assess the efficacy of FIV vaccination. As Subtypes A and C are closely related it is expected that good cross-protection should occur and no evidence of vaccine breakdown has occurred in NZ to date.
For all at-risk cats we recommend vaccination. A simple and quick antibody test will be run in-clinic prior to vaccination for all adult animals. Kittens may be vaccinated straightaway. If the test is negative a microchip to identify your cat as vaccinated (as well as enabling us to track you as an owner) will be inserted and the first vaccine given. A course of 3 vaccinations spaced 2-4 weeks apart is necessary for full protection, with an annual booster given at the same time as your regular vaccine.
A small percentage of cats will have a false-positive antibody test. A laboratory PCR blood test to identify the virus will double-check the in-clinic result. If your cat has feline AIDS we will discuss ongoing treatment. Many cats can go on to live full and happy lives carrying the virus, although remain a risk to other animals if fighting.
If your cat has recently been in a catfight it is best to wait 2 months before testing and vaccination. It takes a while for the body to produce antibodies to the virus and produce a positive test. In all at-risk pets we recommend vaccination due to the high prevalence of FIV, the safety of the vaccine and the fact is it’s too late once they have the virus.
For kittens under 6 months, we can vaccinate without testing. There needs to be one vaccination done with a vet check-up, then two boosters done two weeks apart which will be performed by a nurse. From there, they just require an annual booster, much like their normal vaccinations.
In cats and kittens over 6 months we would need to perform the in-house antibody test. This would involve leaving your cat with us for the day, so we can run the test, then start the vaccination protocol as above if the result is negative. If we get a positive result, we would then send the blood to the external lab for confirmation and reassess where we go from there.