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Cats with FIV virus surge at pet hospital chain

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The Banfield Pet Hospital chain said April 15 that its cat clients are increasingly likely to have the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) but that the cause of this trend is unclear.

In 2013, about 1 of every 300 cats seen in Banfield hospitals was found to have FIV, a 48 percent rise from 2009, according to Banfield’s “State of Pet Health 2014 Report.” The report is based on data collected in 2013 from 470,000 cats cared for in Banfield hospitals across the United States. The states with the highest prevalence of FIV were Oklahoma, Iowa, Arkansas, South Carolina and Indiana.

FIV, which weakens a cat’s immune system, is transmitted mainly among unneutered males who bite each other during fights. The virus can also be spread during mating and from a nursing mom to her kittens. Although the virus makes a cat more vulnerable to other infections, it is not an automatic death sentence, as a cat can live many years with the virus.

Banfield told Examiner.com that it “cannot say with certainty” why it is seeing more FIV-positive cats. But it cited research indicating that people are increasingly adopting cats who more likely to be exposed to the virus.

"Since outdoor cats -- especially stray cats -- and kittens from infected mothers are at the greatest risk of being exposed to the FIV virus, if more of these types of cats are being taken into homes, it makes sense that more cats could be expected to be infected with the virus," said Sandi Lefebvre, senior manager of research for Banfield's internal research team.

Asked whether people are knowingly adopting more FIV-positive cats, Banfield spokeswoman Kelly O'Brien, replied, "Great question, but I don’t have a good answer. Though we would love it if that were the case, our report didn’t survey pet owners, so it’s difficult for us to say for sure if people are more open to adopting FIV-positive cats."

FIV is detected through a blood test. Banfield recommends keeping cats indoors and away from FIV-positive cats to minimize the risk of exposure.

Based in Portland, Ore., Banfield said it is the world’s largest veterinary practice, with more than 850 hospitals in 43 states.

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