The Three Stages of FIV
The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV, causes a viral disorder that slowly disrupts the immune function of infected cats. By attacking the white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting off diseases and infections, the virus lowers the body’s defense system. However, since FIV is a slow-acting virus, most FIV-positive cats are able to live relatively normal lives, showing little to no signs of illness for years. Some cats, though, aren’t as lucky and end up progressing into the later stage of FIV called Feline AIDS, which is the final phase of the disease.
FIV has three stages of infection, and in this article, we’re going to walk you through all of them one by one.
The First Stage
The first stage of FIV infection, also known as the initial or acute phase, happens four to six weeks after the cat contracts the virus. During this stage, the cat may spend a few days going in and out of a fever. Their lymph nodes may also become swollen for several days to several weeks, signaling that an infection is starting to take place. After that, the number of white blood cells in their body will begin to decrease. Infected cats may also experience diarrhea, loss of appetite, and skin issues during this time, but this stage of FIV mostly goes unnoticed.
The Second Stage
The second stage of FIV infection, also known as the latent or subclinical stage, is the asymptomatic phase. That’s because it’s during this stage of the infection that the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus lies dormant in the cat’s body and we see no outward signs of the disease. For some cats, this stage may only last for months. Some of them may also die from causes other than FIV before entering the final stage of the infection.
However, for most cats, the second stage of FIV can last for many years. That’s why it’s common for FIV-positive cats to live normal life spans—sometimes even reaching the age 12 to 15—and appear healthy the entire time.
The Third Stage
The third stage of FIV infection, also known as the chronic or terminal stage, takes place when the virus has severely compromised the cat’s immune system to the point of making it impossible for them to successfully fend off diseases and infections. During this stage, cats can develop all sorts of health problems, ranging from chronic mouth inflammation and severe skin infections to upper respiratory tract infections and certain types of cancer. It’s also during this time that they become incredibly vulnerable to typically harmless bacteria, fungi, or parasites that are now free to multiply and cause opportunistic infections.
Unfortunately, when cats progress to this stage of FIV, their chances of survival is slim to none. In animal hospitals, most veterinarians will resort to humane euthanasia.
Symptoms of Opportunistic Infections
During the final stage of FIV, cats can suffer from all kinds of infections from opportunistic microorganisms. Most of the time, opportunistic infections take the form of skin infections, gastrointestinal problems, and immunological issues.
The most common skin infections in FIV-positive cats include periodontitis (inflammation of the gums), chronic gingivitis (inflammation of the tissues surrounding the teeth), chronic ulcerative stomatitis (painful mouth sores), skin abscesses (pus-filled boils), and pustular dermatitis (pus-filled bumps within the skin).
Common gastrointestinal problems include chronic diarrhea caused by the excessive number of normal bacteria and fungi in the stomach on top of parasitic infections, as well as severe weight loss.
Lastly, immunological issues found in FIV-positive cats include lymphadenopathy (swelling of the lymph nodes), anemia (low red blood cell count), leukopenia (decreased number of white blood cells), and lymphosarcoma (cancer of the lymphocytes and lymphoid tissues).