The PDSA is calling for more cat owners to get their pets neutered to protect them from Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).
Ahead of World Aids Day tomorrow (1 December), the PDSA has revealed nearly 900,000 cats in the UK are not neutered – meaning they are at greater risk of contracting the deadly disease.
Many owners remain unaware of FIV, which belongs to the same family of viruses as HIV and can lead to the breakdown of a cat’s immune system, the charity says.
Like HIV, cats with FIV can live for long periods where they appear healthy and show no signs of illness, but euthanasia is often necessary towards the later stages of the disease. The charity says FIV poses no risk to human health.
With no vaccine available, neutering cats is the best way to protect them as it reduces the chances of them coming into conflict with each other – the primary cause of the virus spreading.
PDSA vet Vicki Larkham-Jones said FIV is primarily transmitted by biting, meaning unneutered male cats have the highest risk of contracting it.
Mrs Larkham-Jones said: “FIV depletes the number of white blood cells, in much the same way as HIV, meaning they are more prone to infection. The virus lives in the blood and saliva of infected cats, but like HIV it cannot survive long outside the body; direct contact is usually necessary to spread the virus.
“Once a cat contracts FIV there is no cure, so the best way to protect them is neutering. Thanks to funding support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we will deliver 30,000 neutering operations this year and educate pet owners about the benefits.
“The procedure is relatively simple and the many health benefits far outweigh the small cost to protect your cat’s long-term health.”
Mrs Larkham-Jones added: “It is vital an FIV-infected cat is neutered. They also need to be kept indoors to avoid contact with other cats. If you have other cats in the household they may also be infected, however, the risk of passing the virus is very low unless they fight.
“We also recommend feeding an FIV-positive cat from a separate food bowl, as saliva can spread the virus.”
Twelve-year-old cat Sid has FIV and was adopted by Julie Harding and her family seven years ago.
The cat has enjoyed relatively good health in that time, although he suffers from recurrent urinary tract infections and was recently treated by PDSA’s Brighton Pet Hospital for a severe mouth infection.
PDSA senior vet Alice Duvernois said: “Sid was brought to us with an infection in his gums, which is something we often see in cats suffering from FIV. After examining him, he underwent a dental procedure to remove a few teeth. His infection was treated with antibiotics and painkillers and he’s now made a full recovery.”
Mother-of-three Julie, from Brighton, believes many people are unwilling to give FIV-positive cats a home.
She said: “Sid was taken into a rescue centre after he was injured in a road accident. While there, he was diagnosed with FIV.
“He’s such a gorgeous cat, but he’s been through the wars and you can tell he was a fighter from his battle scars.
“We decided to take on Sid as these cats unfairly often get overlooked or ignored. I think a lot of it is misunderstanding and some people mistakenly think they are going to somehow contract HIV.”