FIV stands for Feline Immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus that has many similarities to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) but only affects cats.
It is estimated that approximately 15% of cats in Australia are infected with the FIV virus. The highest prevalence is seen in areas with high numbers of free-roaming, sexually intact male cats.
Bite wounds inflicted by FIV-infected cats are the main way that the virus is transmitted. Cats that go outside unsupervised are at the most risk.
Cats that become infected with the virus usually have a period of transient fever and reduced appetite 1-3 months after they are infected. They then enter a subclinical phase where no signs of disease are seen. Some cats never progress past this phase, but over time immunodeficiency can develop, resulting in an increased risk of infections and cancers.
Keeping cats indoors, or in secure outdoor enclosures, is the best way to prevent FIV transmission. Cats can live happy, healthy lives indoors, and they have much lower risk of injury and infectious diseases. Keeping cats indoors also helps keep our wildlife safe. The website https://indoorpet.osu.edu has some great information on appropriate play, exercise and environmental enrichment for indoor cats.
Cats that are kept 100% indoors do not require vaccination for FIV.
Not all cat owners are able to manage to keep their cats completely indoors, and for these cats we recommend vaccinating for FIV.
While vaccinations do not provide complete protection against FIV, they do reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
Unfortunately there have been supply issues with the FIV vaccinations and they are currently unavailable in Australia. We have been advised that they may not be available until early-mid 2024.
If your cat goes outside, and is overdue for their FIV vaccination, or has not yet had their initial course of 3 FIV vaccinations, please consider the following advice to reduce the risk to your cat:
1) If feasible, keep your cat completely inside or in a secure outdoor enclosure.
2) If it is not feasible to keep your cat inside, make sure that they are only allowed outside during the day (supervised if possible) and not at night when most cat fights occur.
3) If your cat has not been desexed and are over 5 months of age, book them in for desexing ASAP.
4) If there are stray cats in your area, contact the Darwin city council for advice.
5) If your cat gets into a fight and has bite wounds or develops an abscess, have them tested for FIV 8-12 weeks after the incident (it takes this amount of time before we can detect the infection).
6) When the vaccination becomes available again, additional boosters may be required to ensure protection from the vaccination. This will depend on how long it has been since your cat’s last vaccination. Although this is frustrating it is the only way to make sure that your cat is protected by the vaccine.
If your cat has been going outside and may have been in a fight, your vet may recommend a blood test prior to vaccination to make sure they have not contracted the virus (as it takes 8-12 weeks before we can detect infection, a follow up test may also be recommended).
We will aim to contact all cat owners with overdue FIV vaccinations as soon as the vaccination becomes available again.