FIV in a stray cat - the interest of the stray cat is to get him eating and not sneezing
A mother with two young daughters found an adult stray cat. "Had runny nose and cough for the past 2 months," she said to me. "The cat follows us home. Must have been kept as a pet before. Just goes to the bathroom herself. Very gentle. I adopted her. But she can't eat now."
Dr Vanessa and I examined the cat. Deep yellow runny nose, saliva drooling from her mouth and her front legs were slimy by a thick crust of purplish red stains.
"How do you know this is a stray cat?" the mother asked.
"The left ear tip is clipped," I said. "There are kind people who gets stray cat sterilised by the vet. The vet cuts a piece of the left ear off to show the law enforcement AVA officers that the cat had been sterilised and is a stray. Hopefully, this cat does not get netted and taken away."
"I had intended to get a cat from the SPCA," she said. "But they charge for adoption."
"Well, you can adopt some from the road," I replied but actually, stray cats are quite uncommon nowadays, in coffee shops unlike 10 years ago. They are an endangered species.
I opened the mouth of the cat. Periodontal diseases with gum ulcers and loose teeth. That means painful mouth and so he can't eat properly. It is best to get the ulcers treated and then the bad teeth extracted."
This would be the most economical cost for a stray cat.
"Stray cats have FIV," Dr Vanessa said. "You should test for FIV."
"What is FIV?" the mother asked.
"Cat AIDS," Dr Vanessa said.
"AIDS, like AIDS in people?"
"FIV is cat AIDS"
"Will my children get AIDS from the cat then?" the mother was worried she would also get AIDS.
"No, no, cat AIDS don't infect people. However, the infected cat's life is short."
"How much to test for AIDS?" the mother asked.
The mother hesitated. This money would be better spent on treatment as stray cat owners seldom want to pay much.
"It is better to get the infection of the nose and the mouth treated," I advised the owner and proposed a package of treatment and hospitalisation excluding FIV test.
Later I spoke to Dr Vanessa to think from the point of view and economics of heartland practice of stray cats in Toa Payoh area.
I asked her: "Assume I am the stray cat owner. Can you tell me that there a cure when I spend $85.00 and you diagnose that my stray cat has feline FIV?"
"No," she said.
"Therefore, in real world, it is in the best interest of the cat with or without FIV to get treated for her URTI (Upper Respiratory Tract Infection) - yellow nasal discharge and sneezing for the past 2 months with antibiotics and cleaned up her mouth. The cat will be able to eat and if not stressed out (by being a stray cat but housed and cared for, the cat will thrive. FIV does not need to be a terrible death for a cat that is well cared for. In other words, limited money for the average heartlander is better spent on treatment rather than on blood test."
Dr Vanessa nodded her head. The owner hospitalised the cat for the next 7 days. Later she phoned to say she wanted FIV test. Today, 2 days after antibiotic treatment, I asked Mr Min whether the cat had improved in health. Mr Min was non-commital. "Dr Vanessa tested the cat FIV positive," he said.
"Just see her nose," I said. "Any yellow discharge? Is the cat looking better? Has he got good appetite?"
The cat had clear clean nostrils and he looked bright-eyed and alert. His front paws had less dark brown sticky stains as when he came in. Those stains were caused by his continuous and excessive salivation and his runny nose stuck onto the front forelimbs when he failed to groom properly.
"Did you clean his noses?" I asked Mr Min.
"No," he mumbled. He just gave antibiotics as instructed by me. A normal cat always clean himself but definitely, the antibiotics had worked for him.
So Mr Min could see that there is an improvement if he is observant. The cat had no fever at admission. Despite having been tested for FIV positive, he had shown health improvement. A few days later, I will get his dental work done. So, he has a fair chance of leading a normal life if well cared for.
I need a lot of patience to mentor Mr Min as he is new to small animal medicine and surgery. Overall, I respect him as a veterinarian graduated from Myanmar and working in Singapore enables him to see the varied cases of dogs, cats and small animals that he has no opportunity to see in Yangon which does not have that large number of pet lovers as in Singapore in 2011. But I predict Yangon's small animal veterinary medicine and surgery should be expanding in 5 years' time as Yangon is growing fast and prospering.
In heartland practice of stray cat, the financial considerations are very important and expensive FIV tests take up the budget. So, in the best interest of the cat, I prefer to get him treated for his bacterial infections and periodontal diseases first rather than confirming the diagnosis of FIV. Of course, in an upscale practice, FIV is routinely done without a thought as the owners don't worry about a cent, in general.