Feline Immunodeficiency Virus: Deciding When to Euthanize

FIV is known by several different names: Feline HIV, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Cat FIV, Feline Aids, and Cat Aids. It is a contagious feline virus, one of several that can threaten your cat's health, even his life.

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When many of my veterinary clients first learn of the feline immunodeficiency virus, their immediate concern is often the fear that this cat version of the virus could be contagious to humans. Fortunately, it is not and your cat does not catch FIV from people.

Part of this concern, no doubt, comes from some of those names FIV has been given. Calling this feline virus by the names of Feline HIV, Feline Aids, and Cat Aids leads people to believe there is a connection between HIV and FIV. While there are many similarities in the method of transmission and problems it causes for the infected cat, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is species specific.

FIV is transmitted from cat to cat primarily through bites and is one of the main reasons I started letting my cats outside only in outdoor cat enclosures several years ago.

The following question and answer illustrate some of the problems that result from a cat being infected by the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and addresses the issue of deciding when a cat's poor quality of life necessitates a consideration of euthanasia.

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QUESTION:

My 14 yr. old cat developed FIV 13 yrs. ago and 6 yrs. ago developed diabetes. Also, he has calcium deposits on his lower spine. 3 months ago, he developed hyperthyroidism and is on medication now. He also has a hemotoma of the ear. In the last month, he was prescribedamoxicillin for a urinary infection.

3 days ago, he started drinking a lot more water and urinating a lot more. His vet had to up his insulin from 2 units to 3 units of PZI, yet he still is drinking more water. When he urinates, he makes a loud growling sound.Sometimes he urinates a lot; sometimes not.

He is taking Amoxicillin again. The Vet wants to put him on a different insulin. He says his kidneys are good, but this is really stressful on both me and my cat. He sleeps all day except to drink water and urinate and make that loud growling noise.

His eating is off and on, depending on the day. I think we should put him to sleep. He is not having a good healthy type of life. He seems to be coming down with something new every couple of months.

Should he be put to sleep?

ANSWER:

I am sorry for your situation and I can really empathize. I personally lost one of my own cats to FIV many years ago. I have also lost many other of my own cats over the years to various illnesses. I would estimate that 90% of the time, I had to make the decision to euthanize them. There are few diseases that end with a comfortable, peaceful death and I have never been one to be able to watch my beloved cats suffer.

No one can make this decision for you. I can only share with youmy criteria that I use to determine when I need to euthanize my own cats and tell you what I might do if I were in your shoes. Ultimately, the decision is yours. You live with your cat and have the most knowledge about his quality of life and that is the most important thing.

Of all the things you mention, the ones that stand out the most to me are the growling while urinating, and the "eating off and on". Growling while urinating would certainly seem to indicate discomfort. A decrease in appetite is almost never a good thing in a cat. When one of my cats stops eating altogether and doesn't regain his appetite within a short while AND has an incurable disease, I know that's as far as I want to go.

Other than those two things (which of course can be quite significant), everything else sounds like it's a lot of work and worry on your part, but may not be much of a problem for your kitty. That's not to say that the decrease in appetite and the painful urination aren't enough to make your decision.

FIV is a virus that cats can live with for many years. It is not a reason for euthanasia if a cat is fairly healthy and having a good quality of life. Some of your cat's symptoms may be the result of the FIV infection, but not all. Certainly diabetes can cause many secondary problems and, as if that isn't enough, he is also hyperthyroid. The combination is difficult for his body to handle.

However, what I pay most attention to, whether a cat has FIV or not, are the following:
 

- I always assess whether my cat seems to be in pain.
- I also pay close attention to whether he is eating and drinking and enjoying eating.
- I watch to see if he is sitting in a comfortable "cat position" when he lies down.
- I try to determine if he enjoys the little things he has always enjoyed - being petted or brushed, looking out a window, curling up in a basket or on my bed or in front of the heat vent.

Basically, I'm assessing quality of life and trying to keep my own emotions and needs out of it.

Again, I can only tell you what I have done, how I judge, and how I see your kitty's condition. No one can make the decision for you. I just encourage you to think of your cat's best interests and try to put your own feelings aside. Too often we want to hold on to our pets for our own interests even though it is a disservice to our loved one.
 

You sound like a very caring, loving, honorable pet lover. I know you will find the answer in your heart and at the right time, whether it's now or in the future.
 

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