This page: Many vets have a poor understanding of the realities of the FIV virus. We explain why it is not their fault, and why you need to know more yourself.
Why do many vets not understand FIV?
Most of a vet's proficiency comes from the hands-on experience they gain during the years after qualifying.
When vets qualify from veterinary college, they have leaned the theory about all animals health, but it is only with the experience they gain after qualifying that they become really proficient with those animals they treat.
What experience do most vets really have of treating FIV cats?
The number of all cats a vet will see will vary depending of the scale of the practice where they work, but a recent survey suggests that many vets will see from around ten to over 40 cats per week, some will see that number every day, which would amount to several thousands of cats seen in a year.
The same survey suggested that most vets see only a handful FIV cats per year - even those vets who deal with one of the major animal charities will only see a small number compared to non-FIV cats, so, by any measure, a vet's experience of FIV cats is tiny compared to their total work load.
Considering that vets are taught the theory at college and then learn from hands-on experience over the following years, it is hardly surprising that, having not had the experience of FIV cats to learn the realities of the virus, they are restricted to 'text-book' reactions to the virus.
When you then consider, of the small number of FIV cats a vet sees, there is a high probability that they were only known to be FIV because there was a reason to test them; for instance, they may have been an un-neutered stray, possibly in poor condition, or they may be a cat for whom an infection is taking an unusually long time to clear up, so they test for FIV as a possible reason.
So, of the small number of FIV cats they do see, there is a good chance they will be in poor condition or in some other way unwell. It is therefore not surprising that many vets have the impression that is the norm for FIV cats.
However, the overall prevalence of FIV varies from location to location, but the most recent figures we have seen for the UK the percentage of FIV cats in the overall rescue population varies between 1% and 8% with an average of just over 3% - so the likelihood is that the number of FIV cats actually seen by the vets is much higher than they think (3% of several thousand is a lot higher than the handful they know about). The point being that most are not known to be FIV+ because there is no reason for them to be tested.
So what do vets do then?
Most vets recognise that they have little real experience of FIV cats, so will turn to other sources for their information; often that would be the papers published by the 'Official Bodies' such as ABCD (European Advisory Board for Cat Diseases); ICC (International Cat Care - used to be FAB Feline Advisory Bureau); AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners).
The problem here is that these bodies are made up of vets and scientists, who also have limited real hands-on experience of FIV cats, so they produce reports which are based mainly on all the scientific papers they can find on the subject.
The problem is then compounded by the fact that the majority of these scientific studies and based on very small sample numbers, and often using cats that are artificially infected in the lab with large doses of highly virulent strains of the virus, which then cause reactions that are not typical of real-life infection of field strain virus in minute volume.
This means the majority of these papers will not be representative of the virus in normal circumstances, so any conclusions made either in the papers themselves, or by those who collect them together for their reports will also not be representative of the virus in real life situations; yet this is all the vets have to provide them with information about FIV!
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the vast majority of vets don't have the in-depth understanding of the true implications of the virus.
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