Wednesday, March 11, 2009

As with Human Beings, Fear and Ignorance is the Enemy

For decades, FIV or 'Feline AIDS' has been one of the most frightening threats to any cat owner. In fact, cat lovers with more than one cat in the household often have rejected a prospective housemate if the cat tested FIV positive. There are many cases, sadly, where cats actually have been killed when they tested positive, for fear that they would infect others.

Fear and ignorance often are our worst enemies. Even compassionate individuals, if infected with fear, can make inhumane decisions.

I wonder how many cat lovers actually understand that the risks of infection to other cats, even where one cat in the household is FIV positive, are minimal. There is a veterinarian who attempts to combat all the misinformation and widespread prejudice that too often is seen even in the most devoted animal lovers.

This veterinarian posted the following information in response to a question from a cat owner who had two cats who had lived together since birth. One of them was FIV positive and the other was free of the virus. She asked if they should be separated.

'FIV, short for feline immunodeficiency virus, causes feline AIDS. FIV is genetically related to the human AIDS virus. I am aware of no evidence that FIV poses a risk to humans living with infected cats.
FIV causes suppression of infected cats’ immune systems. This can lead to intractable infections or certain types of tumours. However, most FIV-infected cats live years (decades in many cases) without suffering any complications from infection.
FIV is not highly contagious. It is spread by serious fighting where an infected cat bites another cat severely enough to break the skin. This sort of fighting is very rare in cats who live together. Cats who reside together in a house are often like siblings growing up in a family. They may not live in perfect harmony all the time, and there may be rows but they rarely inflict serious injuries on one another.

'None of my FIV-positive patients has spread the virus to non-infected housemates. Since your cats get along well, it is very unlikely that the virus will spread.
Of course, it is still possible. A serious fight could lead to infection of your currently FIV-negative cat. You will have to decide on your own whether such a fight is probable. But if your cats are like ones I have known, the disease won’t spread.

FIV does not frequently spread among cats that live in the same household. Cats that cohabitate rarely engage in the aggressive, severe form of fighting that spreads the virus.'

I believe this is important information in view of the widespread misconceptions about FIV. How many poor animals have been rejected by prospective owners because they tested positive for FIV?

The fact of the matter is that, even when a cat tests positive for FIV, he/she can live as long as a cat who is free of the disease, especially with an owner who provides the best of care. Truly a little knowledge can be more dangerous than total ignorance. As Thoreau remarked: 'A man is wise with the wisdom of his time only, and ignorant with its ignorance.' Public 'knowledge' of FIV was based more on hysterical fear than actual facts. Sadly, once again, many in the medical profession who ought to know better than the general public, too often simply repeat the general misconceptions instead of performing exhaustive research on any subject. When one is urged to find out if a cat tests FIV positive, it usually is with the corollary in mind that should the animal test positive, one should reject the poor creature in favour of one who tests negative.

We are victims of our own hearts and one of our worst fears is the fear of loss. It is not from innate cruelty but from the fear that a cat with FIV will die sooner that such an animal is rejected. A truly enlightened and unselfish individual would choose a cat who tests positive... but how many of us would or could go that far? Even so, it is important to know that cats who are FIV positive need not be separated from their companions and that the chances of infection are minimal when they live in the same household and are not in the wilds fighting for territory.

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