Q: My 5 1/2-year-old male cat has just been diagnosed as having FIV. The vet called it AIDS. My cat is half Siamese and neutered and otherwise healthy. Could you please tell me all that you know about this disease?
Susan Rosen, Irvine
A: Feline immunosuppressive virus was originally called "feline AIDS" when is was first discovered by UC Davis researchers in 1986. The virus was named feline T-lymphocytic virus, or FTLV, because of its ability to attack T-lymphocytes, which are the vanguard of the body's immune system. Because of this ability, the virus suppresses the immune system in the same manner that the human AIDS virus does, and a similarity was suspected.
There is, however, no evidence of this virus being transmitted to humans. Because the FTLV resembles the human virus, it may serve as a model for investigation for human AIDS research.
The disease caused by this virus resembles other illnesses that are seen in cats. Most often, there are bouts of diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, fever and gum disease.
Lymph nodes may enlarge, and chronic infections may develop. Most of the cats will also test positive for the feline leukemia virus, or FeLV, and many of the signs of both diseases are similar. Active infection with the FTLV virus is generally fatal, and--unlike FeLV, for which an effective vaccine is available--there is no vaccination to prevent infection. The virus appears to be highly contagious. When faced with a cat with chronic, nonresponsive disease, veterinarians will often test for the FTLV virus and recommend that infected cats be isolated.
Since your cat seems to be healthy, it would be wise to retest him in three to four weeks. Because of the recent discovery of this virus, there is still much to be learned about the mode of infection and the possibility of prevention.
Q: Not too long ago, my cat felt very warm and was acting like she was sick: not eating, lying around and keeping to herself. I thought that she might be running a fever, so I was going to give her some of my child's liquid Tylenol. I called my vet, and his technician told me never to give Tylenol or aspirin to my cat. Can you tell me why? Would that really hurt her? What can I use instead of these medications?
Anna Leton, Fullerton
A: Tylenol or acetaminophen is highly toxic to cats because they have limited ability to metabolize this drug in the liver into a nontoxic form.
In the blood, the medication eventually becomes bound to the hemoglobin molecules, forming a product called methemoglobin, which displaces oxygen in the red blood cells. When the methemoglobin increases, the cat can go into a coma and die. Treatment is generally removal of the drug from the intestinal tract and supportive care.
Aspirin is also dangerous because it is very slowly metabolized and can lead to life-threatening complications. However, proper low doses of aspirin are effective in treating cats with clot formation of the blood. Always talk to your vet before giving your pets any over-the-counter medications.
Got a question about your pet? Write to: Dr. Glenn Ericson, Ask The Vet, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626.