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Matthew Sisk: Kitten tests positive for feline HIV
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My significant other is a cat person. I love cats, but I am more of a dog guy.

When we first began dating, she had an old cat. I had an old dog, an old hound dog, at that. And once I was around this cat woman, she notified me: my dog smelled like Doritos.

Such is the life of an old dog that loves dirt and has a college student as an owner. It happens, but not commonly to cats, especially kittens.

Enter Leia for her first kitten vaccination visit. It was three days removed from an adventure atop the food table at her family’s Super Bowl party.

She came away mostly unscathed, but nacho cheese dip has a tendency to stain hair and leave a bit of an odor.  It’s not pathologic, provided no burns occur if the cheese is hot. It’s just, well, odd.

But that’s acceptable, as the remainder of Leia’s physical exam is normal. She’s playful and surprisingly patient for my palpations. All is as I’d desire, until the tests come back.

As part of the first “kitten package” visit, Leia received a check for fecal parasites (which was negative) and a blood test for two viruses: Feline Leukemia Virus  and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus . These viruses are classified as retroviruses, meaning they replicate themselves in an odd way and often mutate more rapidly than the average virus. That makes them hard to kill inside an animal.

FIV is the cat version of HIV. The viruses are species specific and aren’t a risk to spread in either direction. But cats can get FIV, and it can be disastrous. FeLV is similar.

Unfortunately for Leia, she has tested positive for FIV. To be more precise, she has tested positive for antibodies against FIV. This mundane detail is essential, because the antibodies may not be hers. At her young age, they may be left over from her mother.

We will retest her at just over 3 months old. Maternal antibodies should be gone by then.

Unfortunately, her family will worry in limbo for the next month.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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