Points for Pets: Looking at 2 key viruses in cats: FELV vs. FIV |


Trivia question: Balto, the Alaskan sled dog, helped to save the town of Nome from a deadly outbreak of a disease in 1925 by helping to deliver the antidote through blizzards and temperatures of -40 F. Can you name the disease?

Q: Is Feline Leukemia the same thing as the disease known as FIV? Are these diseases contagious between cats? Can people get these diseases from their cats?

A: Prior to the late 1990s, it was thought that FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), also known as Feline Aids and FELV (Feline Leukemia Virus) were the same disease. We now know that while they both are in the same family of viruses (retrovirus), they are different and distinct. FELV is a virus in cats only that attacks the immune system, but it can also cause bone marrow cancer, tumor formation in the chest or abdomen, and a variety of other conditions due to its immune suppressing effects. There has been a vaccine available since 1985 against FELV, and it has been shown to be highly effective. It is highly recommended that a screening blood test be done prior to vaccination. FELV can be passed from mother to kitten in utero or by nursing, and between cats through casual contact such as sharing litter pans, food bowls, or contact with any bodily fluid. It’s also transmitted by fighting between cats. Because of the serious nature of this virus, all cats needs to be screened for and vaccinated against FELV.

FIV is transmitted primarily between cats through bite wounds, so it is more common in fighting males that have not been neutered than in any other demographic group. It affects cats very much like the AIDS virus affects humans: by attacking the immune system and lowering resistance to other diseases. It is usually not fatal in itself, but it can cause problems by allowing bacterial and viral pathogens to proliferate in an FIV-infected animal. There is a screening test for FIV, and it’s usually run together with a Feline Leukemia test. Like FELV, FIV is a cat disease and does not infect dogs or humans.

Q: My veterinarian told us our Cock-a-poo is overweight and that this could affect his life span. Is this possible? What do you recommend to help get him slimmed down a little, because I don’t feel like he eats very much at all?

A: Obesity, the term used to describe an animal or human being more than 20 percent over their ideal weight, is all too common in veterinary medicine. First of all, obesity can shorten the life of a pet by making them more prone to heart and respiratory disease as they age. The extra pounds can really take a toll on the joints, particularly the hips and knees, and as the joints begin to ache, the animal will want to move less, which then causes an increase in weight gain. Arthritis is bad enough in a geriatric pet, but when compounded with the extra stress caused by obesity, one could say that we are “killing our pets with kindness.”

When faced with a pet that needs to lose weight, the owner must be willing to face the fact that pets get too heavy because they eat too much and exercise too little. Less than 3 % of all obese dogs may have their situation complicated by a thyroid problem, but that leaves 97% that need “true” compassion from their owners. If I had a dollar for every time the owner of an obese pet tells me that their dog or cat “does not eat that much,” I could purchase an island in the Caribbean.

Your veterinarian will first help you establish an ideal weight for your dog, based on the exam, breed and body type. From that point, one of several prescription diets can be used that is restricted in calories, without actually having to reduce the amount fed. I prefer a gradual weight loss, as this is much healthier for your dog or cat, and tends to be more of a “permanent” solution. Over-the-counter diet pet foods haven’t given us the results that we see with the premium pet foods. One thing that must be stressed here is this: Most pets do not get fat from eating too much pet food; they get fat from eating too many treats and human food from the table! That is unfortunately the truth!

Your veterinarian can also recommend an increase in exercise, if the overall health of the dog or cat is good. It is best to do bi-weekly or monthly weigh-ins to keep track of your progress and to make sure that you are meeting your assigned goals. Once a pet owner understands the dangers of obesity and is willing to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, the weight will be reduced.

Remember, dogs and cats usually eat to their need for calories and don’t need to feel “stuffed” after a meal the way humans often do. Take the emphasis off food and put it on exercise. YOU are the owner. YOU are in control. Now go and help your dog live healthier and happier!

Trivia answer: Diphtheria

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