Emerging Small Animal Diseases, Part 1

After many hours of studying a great number of scholarly articles and after several interviews I’m finally in the process of compiling the most important information in an essay. I will share here some of my findings:

First of all, the topics that a search for “emerging diseases” in scientific journals brings up are often very different from the diseases that veterinarians name as spreading in the area. A substantial number of articles focuses on very rare diseases with a low number of cases, which the majority of veterinary professionals working in the field never observe. Therefore, studying these rare diseases, while very satisfying for my curiosity, may be a “wild goose chase” if the goal of my research is to compile information on the diseases which are a substatial threat to small companion animals.

However, there are several diseases that both attract the attention of researchers and are observed as “emerging” by veterinary practitioners. A prime example of such a disease is FIV, which can be considered the feline version of HIV. Both the viruses and the diseases they produceĀ are extremely similar, even though the viruses do not appear to be directly related and the diseases are strictly species-specific. Still, the development of FIV in infected cats closely mirrors HIV in humans: after an initial acute infectious period, which might have mild symptoms such as fever and lack of appetite but often goes unnoticed, the disease becomes asymptomatic for years. During that time, the amount of virus in the blood remains so low that it goes undetected, but the white cell count drops slowly and steadily. Eventually it becomes so low that immunodeficiency becomes apparent, and the infected cat begins to suffer from opportunistic infections, such as FeLV. The animal’s condition continues to worsen, until opportunistic infections and sometimes neurologic complications lead to death.

One of the most prominent differences between FIV and HIV is the method of transmission. Unlike HIV, FIV is not a sexually transmitted disease in nature, even though researchers have proven experimentally that it can be passed in that manner. Instead, the common route of FIV transmission is through blood to blood contact during cat fights. As a result, the disease is most common among feral and abandoned cats, specifically among young males which frequently engage in territorial fights. Consequently, those veterinarians who work mostly with middle-class clients and indoor pets rarely observe this disease. On the other hand, the veterinarians who work with many outdoor pets face it much more often. FIV is particularly common in animal shelters which take care of abandoned and feral cats. However, since transmission of the disease requires blood to blood contact, it does not generally spread among the animals in the shelter – or in a household. Though FIV can significantly shorten a cat’s life, it lives and remains relatively healthy for years after infection, and therefore can easily become a great pet, just like an FIV-negative cat.


  1. Alexa McDorman says:

    Poor wild cats. Are they just as lost in how to cure FIV as they are the human version? Perhaps further research in felines can provide insight into a cure for both.

  2. valentinams says:

    To Alexa McDorman:
    You are right, there is no known cure for FIV. However, there is a pretty reliable vaccine against it. Obviously, feral cats cannot be vaccinated as they have no owners, so this fact does not stop the spread of the disease. However, pet owners with outdoor cats can vaccinate their cats against FIV because of the higher risk of infection. Currently, however, most veterinarians do not recommend this vaccine for all pet cats, because the majority of them are indoor and have very little chance of becoming infected, while the vaccine has substantial side effects, so it’s just not worth it.

  3. Eliza Urban says:

    I haven’t ever heard of FIV. Did it emerge around the same time as HIV?

  4. valentinams says:

    The first recorded case of FIV was in 1986, but tests on stored blood samples from earlier dates seem to show that it has been around for a few years by then.