Catwork Sanctuary -
of sanctuary FIV+ cats
In order to get an overall picture of our FIV cats' health, we reviewed the health history of all the FIV cats we cared for in the sanctuary over the 15 years up to 2011.
There have been over 80 FIV cats that have come to our sanctuary, A small number have been in a very poor state and only survived a short time (our hospice cases); but most have lived with us for many years.
When they arrived, some were young , most were of an indeterminate age - anything ranging from 3 to 10; and a few were more than 10 years old, so a fair cross section of ages.
You will see from the information that follows, that, apart from those who arrived as hospice cases, most have had several years with few health issues.
The most common issue that has arisen and required veterinary attention has been problems with poor teeth. This is a problem that is quite common in all cats, especially those over the age of 5 or 6, and is not directly related to the virus.
The most common dental problem is FORL (Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions), where the teeth decay below the gum line.
Other operations our cats have needed have been for hyperactive thyroid glands, removal of benign lumps, entropian (in-growing eyelashes); and, in one case, the removal of an ear and the full ear canal, due to tiny tumours in the ear. In all cases the cats made full recoveries and went on to enjoy good health after their operations.
General infections, which might be expected to be prevalent in FIV cats, have been remarkably scarce. We have seen some urinary tract infections, upper respiratory infections and minor eye infections, but only a handful in total. We have seen a number of tumours, in various parts of the body, which have generally been inoperable, and consequently life-ending. Whether there is a higher rate of tumours in FIV cats is possible, but not clear, as uninfected cats also suffer from these growths.
This all illustrates that the virus is not, as so many suggest, 'destroying' the immune system to allow multiple infections. The image that some have that FIV cats are 'sickly' cats is just not true - another myth!
Are our examples typical?
We are not sure. We do read of other FIV cats who seem to have more problems, but can't be sure if that is just because those are the ones written about, whereas the healthy ones don't get a mention.
We do hear reports that mouth infections are thought to be common in FIVs, but our experience is that, apart from the FORL already mentioned, we only have a few cases of gingivitis and stomatitis.
We have speculated elsewhere that infections may be uncommon because our cats do have permanent access to the outside, as opposed to those cats who are confined to an indoor life. Could this have an effect on their condition? We can't be sure, but note it as our observation.
As a broad generalisation, we observe that those cats who have clearly had a bad time before coming to us, have generally shorter lives than those who have a known history, ie have not been strays and consequently have not known that period of very poor diet. We believe that the cat's early life experience is far more important to its continued health than the FIV virus.
The cats that come into the sanctuary, no matter what their condition, are often in a stressed and confused state. The most important contribution we feel that we make, is to provide them with a routine that they feel confident with and as stress-free an environment as we can manage.
We often observe a dramatic and positive change in the demeanour of the cats over the first few weeks as they settle into their new life and routine, and, importantly, learn to trust that they are safe and will receive regular food and attention. The stress of straydom is, in our view, a major cause of malaise in these cats; the virus is very low down on the list of problems that have affected them.
You will see a chart Here where we list all the FIV cats we have cared for; it shows their health status for each year, so it is relatively easy to see the amount of health issues the cats had. This shows that, contrary to what one might expect, our FIV cats have not suffered any more illnesses than might be expected of any other group of rescued cats from mixed backgrounds.
So what have our FIV cats taught us about the health implications of FIV?
Their health history shows that our experience does not match what is often reported about the effects of the FIV virus.
If you read the literature put out by the 'authorities', you might expect an FIV cat to suffer from all sorts of ailments. Those they list include: infections, mouth issues, digestion/diarrhoea problems, weight loss, poor appetite and more.
It is commonly thought that FIV cats will suffer much more than other cats from infections, whereas our FIV cats have had very few infections, and those they have had, responded well and quickly to standard treatments.
Why should this be? - As mentioned earlier, one possible factor may be due to the environment in which they live here. The main reason, in our view, is that the virus does not have the effect that many think it does, and the immune system of FIV cats can, in practice, be just as strong as that of other cats.
It is often reported that mouth problems, especially gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and stomatitis (inflammation of the mouth/throat) are common with FIV cats, whereas our experience does not show that.
Figures often quoted are for half (50%) of FIV cats to suffer from chronic gingivitis or stomatitis, whereas of our 80+ FIV cats, only three have persistently suffered in this way (4%) (Jemima, Jim and Ralph).
FORLs (Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions - tooth decay starting below the gum-line; now known as Tooth Resorption)
Several of our FIV cats have needed dentals to remove FORL-affected teeth, but this is no more than normal. Depending where you look, it is reported that, in the general cat population, around 28-38% of cats need dentals. So, as 28 of our 80+ FIV cats (about one third) have had dental treatment, mainly to remove FORL teeth, it would seem that our FIV cats have had no more dental problems than would be expected from the general cat population.
Another often quoted 'problem' with FIV cats is digestive/diarrhoea tendencies. Our FIV cats don't seem to have suffered too much in this way, and the few who have, also showed other symptoms that indicated causes other than the FIV - eg pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, liver disease. It is obviously difficult to say whether the FIV had a contribution or not, but certainly we haven't seen digestive/diarrhoea as a major problem.
Poor appetite/weight loss
Another sign quoted for FIV is a poor appetite and/or weight loss. Anyone who visits the Fivery would have no doubt that weight loss is not a recognised problem with our FIV cats! Poor appetite is also uncommon. Reluctance to eat is often the first sign of FORL problems, but when that is sorted out with a dental, feeding enjoyment returns to normal.
What they died from...
All cats die of something. One needs to think what the causes of death are for 'normal' cats, ie those without the virus. It is suggested that the most common causes of death for the general cat population are: kidney failure; cancer/tumours; heart failure; road accidents and, of course, 'old age'.
Guess what our FIV cats died from?... clue: not road accidents!
Yes, kidney failure and cancerous tumours have been the two causes of death most experienced by the Fivery cats. This means that our FIV cats seem to have remarkably similar causes of death to the rest of the cat population. All talk of cat AIDS is misguided. The only FIV cats that may have been classified as AIDS were Lionel (2002)(see p86) and Fred (2007)(see p98), but they were both elderly and from very poor situations, with much more going on than FIV, so even with them, it is not sure that AIDS would really be a correct diagnosis.
What does all this mean? Well, obviously our FIV cats haven't read the right text books, and just got it all wrong!
Either that, or FIV cats just don't suffer in the way they are thought to - that's our experience, anyway.
The experience of our 80 or so FIV cats over the last fifteen years have shown that they are no different, with regard to health issues, than any group of cats without the virus.
One might wonder where the reported problems came from that form the information given out by 'authorities'.
As already indicated, we suspect it is a product of vets across the country who see the FIV cats who are brought in as ill cats, rather than from a truly representative selection of FIV cats, ie mostly well FIV cats.
Below, you will see the chart that illustrates our FIV cats' histories whilst with us. We don't think it would be very different from a similar group of uninfected rescue cats with similar varied backgrounds. Unfortunately, we are not aware of any comparable studies of uninfected cats, so what we observe has to stand alone.
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