The good news is that with early detection and proper veterinary care, cats with serious diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), the feline version of HIV, and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) can live long and healthy lives. Having cats tested is a key factor in slowing the spread of these diseases.
An estimated 31 million cats in the U.S. are at risk for FIV and FeLV. These diseases are spread from cat to cat (they cannot be spread to people) and are highly contagious. Since cats with FIV and FeLV often have no visible symptoms and many cat owners are not aware their cat has been exposed, it's vitally important to have cats tested. Treatment usually consists of a nutritional diet, closer monitoring and more frequent visits to the vet.
The study, conducted by veterinary clinics around the country, found one in every eight cats that had some type of oral disease also tested positive for FIV, FeLV or both. Cats with oral diseases are four times more likely to have those conditions than cats without.
"This study encourages testing cats that have gingivitis and other oral diseases for FIV and FeLV infection. This gives veterinarians valuable new information in their efforts to fight these contagious viruses," said Dr. Jan Bellows, a diplomat of the American Veterinary Dental College and the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners.
Cat owners should work with their veterinarian to establish a regular schedule of comprehensive wellness exams, including dental screenings and FIV/FeLV testing.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners says a cat should also be tested for FIV/FeLV:
- When sick, regardless of previous negative results. Signs of illness may include changes in behavior, grooming and eating habits.
- When cats and kittens, regardless of age, are newly adopted.
- When cats live in households with unknown infection status. Infected cats who don't have symptoms can still transmit the viruses to uninfected cats.
- When cats have had potential exposure, whether they snuck outdoors or got in a fight with a cat of unknown infection status.
- Annually, especially for cats that fight or live with infected cats.
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends cat owners visit their veterinarians for a wellness exam twice a year.