This page: A short section of an article in Your Cat magazine contained numerous errors about FIV - written by a senior vet at PDSA, is that acceptable?
What we are up against.....published articles
Magazine misinformation - Your Cat magazine
There was an article published in the August 2014 issue of Your Cat, in the "Your Kitten" section, entitled "Health warning".
The article briefly introduced a number of feline health issues. It was attributed to senior vet at PDSA, so one might reasonably assume that it was accurate - the short section on FIV, however, was almost totally incorrect or misleading!
The article wrongly says:
"FIV is an infection which destroys a cat's immune system"
Truth : The virus does NOT destroy the immune system, in fact, most FIV cats have strong immune systems for most of their lives.
The virus attaches itself to cells in the immune system, but it acts so slowly that it has little real effect on its strength for many years, and often the immune system remains fully effective for the whole of the cat's life.
For a more detailed explanation of how FIV actually affects the immune system, view our How FIV works page.
The article goes on to suggest that symptoms of FIV include gingivitis, weight loss, fever and poor appetite.
Truth: These are general symptoms that can affect almost any cat. FIV itself has no symptoms that are specific to the virus.
The symptoms listed may be seen in some FIV cats, but can just as easily be seen in non-FIV cats, because they can be caused by many things, so to suggest that they are symptoms of the virus is misleading.
For more information about illnesses attributed FIV cats, see our page Health history of the sanctuary FIV cats.
Next, the article wrongly suggests that the FIV virus can be spread by scratching.
Truth : FIV is NOT spread by scratching. The virus is present in the blood and saliva of an infected cat and has to enter the blood stream of another cat in order to infect it.
If a cat scratches another, the victim may well bleed a little, but, as there is no virus on the claws, the virus will not be in contact with the scratch, so cannot enter the blood stream that way.
To suggest scratching is a form of transmission is irresponsible as it simply frightens people unnecessarily. It is not uncommon for cat housemates to give the occasional swipe across the nose; if people think that would transmit the virus, it will only increase the difficulty in finding homes for FIV cats.
For more information about transmission of FIV, see our FIV transmission page.
The article then suggests that an FIV+ kitten should have its own food bowl, not shared with other cats.
This suggests that the virus is transmitted via shared food bowls.
Truth : There is no evidence that FIV is transmitted via shared food bowls, this is a confusion often made with FeLV (Leukaemia Virus)
Although the virus is present in the saliva, it does not survive out of the body, so the chances of live virus being licked from a food bowl by another cat is almost non-existent, and even if it is, virus entering the mouth has to cross the mucous membrane, which is a very effective barrier to the virus, so any virus would travel to the stomach where the stomach acids will kill it.
Although this sounds as if it is a risk, it really isn't. There was a scientific study which showed, with experimentally artificially infected cats, that it required 10,000 times more virus to achieve infection across the mucous membrane than via direct contact with the blood stream - which effectively means it is not possible in normal circumstances like with shared food bowls. It is one of those, 'theoretically just about possible', but in reality, does not happen.
Conclusion: It is a shame that this section on FIV was included in the article as it was inaccurate and misleading in several ways. The general impression given is that FIV is a far more damaging and more easily transmitted virus than is actually the case - this just adds to the unjustified fear and mistrust of FIV+ cats in general, and is therefore irresponsible in view of the difficulty already existing for finding good information about FIV.
Also, the section of the article (about kittens) did not make it clear that it is not possible to identify FIV infection in a kitten using the usual test for FIV, so it is an unlikely scenario to meet in looking at kittens anyway.
For more information about kittens and FIV see our page on FIV-kittens.
We wrote to the editor of Your Cat, twice, explaining our concerns about this section of the article, but did not received a response.
Fortunately, Your Cat published a subsequent full article on FIV that was much better informed, so we feel the magazine has redeemed itself somewhat, but we remain very disappointed that a senior vet at PDSA has such a poor understanding of the virus; it is a shame that FIV section was ever included in the article.