Cat lovers need not feel down in the mouth about protecting
their pets from serious disease. In fact, their cat's mouth is a
good place to start. A recent study shows that cats with common
forms of oral disease have a higher rate of testing positive for
more serious diseases.
The good news is that with early detection and proper veterinary
care, cats with serious diseases such as feline immunodeficiency
virus (FIV), the feline version of HIV, and feline leukemia
virus (FeLV) can live long and healthy lives. Having cats tested
is a key factor in slowing the spread of these diseases.
An estimated 31 million cats in the U.S. are at risk for FIV and
FeLV. These diseases are spread from cat to cat (they cannot be
spread to people) and are highly contagious. Since cats with FIV
and FeLV often have no visible symptoms and many cat owners are
not aware their cat has been exposed, it's vitally important to
have cats tested. Treatment usually consists of a nutritional
diet, closer monitoring and more frequent visits to the vet.
The study, conducted by veterinary clinics around the country,
found one in every eight cats that had some type of oral disease
also tested positive for FIV, FeLV or both. Cats with oral
diseases are four times more likely to have those conditions
than cats without.
"This study encourages testing cats that have gingivitis and
other oral diseases for FIV and FeLV infection. This gives
veterinarians valuable new information in their efforts to fight
these contagious viruses," said Dr. Jan Bellows, a diplomate of
the American Veterinary Dental College and the American Board of
Cat owners should work with their veterinarian to establish a
regular schedule of comprehensive wellness exams, including
dental screenings and FIV/FeLV testing.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners says a cat
should also be tested for FIV/FeLV:
• When sick, regardless of previous negative results.
Signs of illness may include changes in behavior, grooming and
• When cats and kittens, regardless of age, are newly
• When cats live in households with unknown infection
status. Infected cats who don't have symptoms can still transmit
the viruses to uninfected cats.
• When cats have had potential exposure, whether they
snuck outdoors or got in a fight with a cat of unknown infection
• Annually, especially for cats that fight or live with
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends cat
owners visit their veterinarians for a wellness exam twice a