Feline AIDS Can Cause Chronic Disease in Cats

Many different long term symptoms can suggest AIDS. Infected kitties must be handled carefully to allow them to live as long and as well as possible.



My cat Jessie has been sick on and off for a long time so I got worried about him. He’s had a snotty nose and a fever and then he starting losing weight. So I took him to the vet who did some blood tests and he came up AIDS positive. Now I’m really scared. Will Jessie die soon? What about me and my kids-are we going to get sick too?


Dr. Nichol:

I know how worried you are. It’s true that Jessie is a very sick kitty but he may do OK for a while. But rest assured that you and you family are not at risk of getting AIDS from your cat. Not only has it never happened but it really can’t. The virus that causes feline AIDS has no way of infecting people.


While people can’t get AIDS from a cat, there are some striking similarities with the human disease. In cats AIDS is a lifelong disease, there is no vaccination against it yet, and while we can help an infected cat feel better, we can’t cure it.


I know that this is bad news for Jessie but he could do well for quite a while with good supportive care. For example, with upper respiratory symptoms like his nasal discharge oral antibiotics can make a world of difference. To be sure the right antibiotic is used, a nasal culture will be important. In addition if he is dehydrated and malnourished, fluids intravenously and feeding through a special P.E.G. tube could save his life. (I’ll talk about PEG tubes in my answer to the next question). As long as the AIDS infection in his body is not in its terminal stages he should respond very well.


While AIDS in cats is scary for us cat lovers, we could all do well with some good information. Here it is: This infection is found all over the world. Infected male cats outnumber females 3:1 because the majority of infections are contracted through fight wounds; the virus is present in large numbers in the saliva. While other methods of transmission include lactation (kittens nursing from infected mother cats), and breeding, infections from these sources are rare.


So when do we suspect AIDS in a sick kitty? Often the tip off is signs of AIDS Related Complex (ARC). This really just means chronic infections that have occurred for months or years-similar to what has happened to Jessie. This includes infections of the inside of the mouth, diarrhea, skin problems, urinary infections, anemias, weight loss, and respiratory infections like Jessie’s. When a cat with AIDS gets real sick, weight loss becomes severe. In addition they can also have behavioral changes like pacing, twitching, or hiding.


I know how horrible this sounds. Fortunately we can spare a terminal cat the fear and indignity of a wretched death by humane injection. Know that you may be able to keep Jessie comfortable and happy for quite awhile. By taking the time to write to me with your question you have helped increase public awareness of feline AIDS. The bottom line is this: Do your best to prevent feline AIDS by keeping your cats indoors. And neuter your male  kitties to curb their desire to fight.