Monday, April 30, 2012

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus - Fiction vs. Fact

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) just sounds scary. This disease has accumulated a great deal of rumor, stigma, and misinformation. In this post we’ll look at the truth behind the disease.

Before we begin, you should know that the diagnosis isn’t a death sentence, and FIV-positive cats very often live long, healthy, and relatively normal lives. The best way to cure fear is with accurate information, so let’s take a look at what FIV is, how it’s spread, and how an FIV infection can affect a cat’s life.

What is it?

FIV is a lentivirus, a type of retrovirus that has a long incubation period. What this means is that the virus takes a long time to develop in an infected organism. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the most well known example of this type of virus, and comparisons between FIV and HIV are inevitable.

Like HIV, cats who have been infected with FIV experience an initial stage of mild symptoms including fever, lethargy, and lack of appetite. Again like HIV, the cat then goes into an asymptomatic stage which can last anywhere from months to years. The final stage is Feline Auto Immune Disease (FAIDS), the counterpoint to AIDS in humans. During this stage the cat’s immune system has been suppressed to the point where they are unable to effectively fight off infection.

Like AIDS, the cause of death isn’t the condition itself, but a secondary disease taking advantage of the weakened immune system. However, compared to HIV, it is much more rare for FIV to advance to full blown FAIDS. Cats in the final stage may deteriorate progressively, or they may have periods of sickness and health.

And that’s the scariest part of this post. The basics of the condition aren’t very comforting, but there’s good news. Your kitty can be effectively protected against FIV. And even if your buddy already has the condition, there’s a good chance that his quality of life won’t be compromised by it.

How is it spread?

Lentiviruses are characterized by their presence in bodily fluids - blood, semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk, and even saliva and tears. However, some of these fluids are more effective vectors than others. For example, though the virus is present in both, there has never been a documented case of HIV being passed through either saliva or tears, and cases of transmission through vaginal fluid are extremely rare.

In the case of FIV, the single most common route of transmission is through deep penetrating bite wounds. Unlike HIV, FIV is not passed through sexual activity and though it seems possible in theory, Dr. Anne Eldridge, veterinarian for Firetower Animal Clinic, says "there is no proof it can pass from mom to babies". Like HIV, it is possible to transmit FIV through any introduction of infected blood into the bloodstream - including with a blood transfusion - but if low quantities of blood are involved, the chances of this kind of infection are vanishingly small.

How Can I Protect My Pet?

Current estimates suggest that 1-3% of cats in the US are infected with FIV, but that number is skewed by the higher presence of the disease (as much as 15%) in feral, un-neutered, free roaming male cats - cats that are not pets. This group is at the highest risk for contracting the illness because they are most likely to engage in the type of serious fighting necessary to spread FIV. According to Dr. Eldridge, "this is classically an 'unfriendly cat' disease... it's really about the bite wound but your cat could be the recipient of the bite".

So here’s that good news I promised: indoor-only cats that have no contact with FIV-positive cats have no way to contract FIV. Cats that go outdoors are at risk for the disease. However, the overall risk is not large, especially if the cat is spayed or neutered, which generally decreases fighting. Even if your cat is injured, transmission isn’t guaranteed (though of course the cat should be seen by the vet and tested for FIV).

And even more good news: even a non-infected cat living among FIV-positive kitties has a relatively low risk for contracting the disease. According to the Best Friends Animal Society, “unless your cats at home routinely tear each other to pieces, it’s not a problem. And if your cats are tearing each other up, that’s probably a bigger problem.” FIV is not spread by drinking or eating from the same bowl or from using the same litter box - there has to be a significant transmission of blood between the cats.

My cat already has FIV

Even if your cat has already been diagnosed with FIV, there is no reason to panic. The other cats in your home should be tested. Many vets will recommend that you keep the FIV-positive cat separate from your non-infected cats. But if that’s not possible, remember that transmission is highly unlikely as long as your kitties play nicely with each other. Dr. Eldridge says, "[The chance of] a healthy, non-positive cat getting FIV from the positive cat, if they get along and don’t fight, is very very low - but there’s always that chance." Ideally, no new cats should be added to the household.

FIV-positive cats should be kept indoors, both so they don’t spread the disease to other cats, and also to protect them from exposure to infections that will attack their weakened immune systems. They should also be spayed or neutered to further decrease the likelihood of fighting.

You should also follow a few common sense precautions. Don’t feed any immunosuppressed animal raw or unpasteurized foods, since these can contain infectious bacteria. FIV-positive cats should get a high-quality, high-protein diet. Your vet will likely recommend additional wellness visits, and these kitties should be monitored closely. It’s important to get a jump on any secondary infection before it gets out of hand.

Meet Barney

If your animal has a chronic condition, the best thing for you to do is to give them the best quality of life for as long as possible. Do your research, talk to your vet, and be aware of your pet's normal behaviors so you can quickly catch any change. But don't let a diagnosis like FIV rule your pet's life - or your own. What your buddy really wants from you is plenty of love.

That's what Heidi Nothdurft's family learned when they adopted Barney in March 2011. Heidi says, "We specifically wanted to adopt an "unadoptable" cat, one that was less likely to be adopted. At this point, I should say that we didn't choose Barney per se, he chose us.  We were still debating between cats when I walked over to his cage.  He scooted up to the front and put his paw right up on the door and spoke to me, a short but determined meow, and that was it.  We took him home right then, FIV or no."
Barney, a 9 year old male FIV-positive cat
If you are considering adopting an FIV-positive cat, in addition to echoing the advice above about spay/neuter and awareness of the cat's normal health and personality, Heidi adds, "If you really like a cat and only have reservations about FIV+, remember that it's probably because it's an unfamiliar thing, and you'll get used to the idea with time.  As long as they remain healthy and relatively stress-free, they can have the equal life span of any other cat.  So go for it and give a cat a loving home because others will not be as willing to overlook FIV+ and the cat may never be adopted."

Barney demonstrates his flexibility while he prepares for a day of napping in his favorite chair
Since his adoption, Barney has had a healthy and happy life with the Nothdurfts. He is now nine years old but has no significant health issues - not even arthritis. According to Heidi, "He is in the wise old man stage with the all knowing look, sleeping all day on "his" favorite chair, purring and talking, and headbutting us affectionately.  Barney is a wonderful pet and very much a part of our family. He rules the house just like a grandfather would, boxes little doggy ears when needed, and administers loving affection to all.  We wouldn't trade him for the world."

Many FIV-positive cats like Barney are never adopted. Consider opening your heart and home to a pet with special needs.

We hope that this post has helped to shatter some of the myths about FIV. Later this month you'll meet our resident FIV-positive kitty, Smokey Joe!

Thanks to Heidi Nothdurft and Dr. Anne Eldridge for their assistance with this post.

Monday, April 23, 2012

New Ways to Donate

Welcome to our 50th post! 

For this milestone, we've decided to take a look at some new ways that HSEC is using technology in support of our mission. We're continuously working to increase our social media presence, here on the blog, on Facebook, on Twitter (@HSEC), and in new sites like Pinterest.

In addition to social media, we are pleased to highlight several ways that you can donate through online fundraising. Now you can support HSEC while visiting the grocery store or surfing the internet in your pajamas! Truly, we live in wondrous times.

There are now several fundraising websites designed to harness the power of social media. Some of these employ mini-campaigns with a definite goal, such as raising money for an animal’s medical needs or replacing an overworked computer. Others allow longer campaigns or ongoing fundraising. The sites make donating quick and painless.

 So far, we have used ChipIn to fund hip surgery for Balto, a one-year-old Malamute. Balto has severe hip dysplasia that causes him pain and keeps him from living a normal life. We're closing in on our goal of $1000 for the two surgeries that he needs ($500 each), and we've been able to schedule the first surgery! We're not quite there yet, however, and you can help tip us over the top by contributing to Balto's care here.

Balto says, "Thanks for helping! Aroooo!
ChipIn allows us to get the word out quickly for specific needs. We’ll post these campaigns on Facebook and Twitter - and even if you can’t give, you can help us spread the word by sharing and retweeting! We’re also looking into other donation websites. If you or your organization has feedback about specific websites, we'd love to hear about it. This is a learning process for us too!

Other resources allow us to receive a percentage of your routine purchases. If you have a Food Lion MVP card, visit their website to enroll in their Community Rewards program. Link your card to the Humane Society of Eastern Carolina, and part of every purchase will find its way to us.

For your online shopping, check out iGive. Once you have signed up for this service, you can install an iGive button on your web browser. As you make purchases on select websites, a percentage will be donated to HSEC. Online retailers in this program include Barnes and Noble,, Boscov’s, Sears,, Best Buy, the Apple Store,, Petco, Petsmart, Cabela’s, and many, many more. For more instructions and information about iGive, visit their website.

And of course, if none of these options appeals to you, you can always just click on the big yellow DONATE button on the top right of the page.

When it comes to online donations, it may seem like your contribution is just a drop in the bucket. But we are sincerely grateful for each and every drop, no matter how small. There’s strength in numbers, and all those friends and followers can unite to turn tiny drops into a roaring flood of support. Don’t discount your ability to make a huge difference in the lives of needy animals.

A version of this post will appear in the next HSEC PawPrints Newsletter! If you're interested in receiving the newsletter, send an email to

Friday, April 20, 2012

Purrfect Post Cat of the Month - Harriet

Meet Harriet!

Our special cat spotlight for the month of April is one gorgeous gal!  Miss Harriet has been with the HSEC for almost a year and she is ready for her forever home!

Harriet is a beautiful tortie with sweet golden eyes who has been living with one of our wonderful foster parents!  She was abandoned in a cardboard box at the front door of the humane society last summer and the volunteer who found her thought she was the sweetest thing.  Unfortunately when we took Harriet into the building and got her set up in her temporary new home she wasn't too happy!  It took her a while to warm up to the staff and volunteers but we're happy to report she's a whole new cat these days!

After moving in with her new foster mommy, Elise, Harriet really came out of her shell and started showing the world just was a great cuddle buddy she could be!  Elise loves Harriet dearly and sent us the following pictures and description of Harriet.  Even though they Elise is her best bud Harriet is on the prowl for her forever home.

Since moving in with Elise, Harriet has become an excellent tutor and encourages Elise to get all her homework done on time!

Harriet also realized she is a princess who needs her beauty sleep!

Harriet enjoys relaxing outdoors when the weather is nice and watching over her kingdom.

But most of all Harriet loves to be a cuddle monster!

Here is what Elise had to share with us about Harriet:

"Harriet is the popular cat! She is doing great. She likes to climb, run, and hunt. Bugs are her speciality right now, but if she had the chance she would love to get at some birds. She plays with her feather toy all day everyday. She loves that toy so much that she will actually carry it around with her if she moves into a new room. She likes laying on my comfy bed on top of my fluffy blanket. Most mornings when I wake up she is laying on top of me purring away. 
She doesn't get along with other animals very well. In fact, she will usually intimidate dogs that are much bigger than her. But I am working with her to be more accepting. Now instead of attacking dogs she will stay at a distance and observe them and growl if they get too close. But she is slowly improving. 
The other day she was so amped up with energy that she just started sprinting around the whole apartment. She was jumping on and off my bed, running under my bed, running out of the room, into the room - she was going crazy! I was just sitting in the middle of my room afraid to move."
It's clear that Harriet has grown into a wonderful and loving pet who enjoys playing with toys and cuddling with her human.  As Elise mentioned Harriet does not always get along well with other animals and may be best in a one-animal home.  If you're interested in seeing more pictures of Harriet and reading more from Elise please visit Harriet's petfinder page here!
Like all cats at the Humane Society of Eastern Carolina Harriet is up to date on her vaccines, she has tested negative for FIV/FeLV, she has been dewormed, she is on flea prevention, and she has been spayed.  Harriet's adoption fee is $70 which includes a free starter bag of Science Diet adult cat food and one free month of pet insurance!
If you're interested in meeting Harriet please give us a call at (252) 413-7247 or e-mail us at so we can set up a meet and greet!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Blog Dog of the Month - Lilly

Excited for some April flowers this month? 
Then we've got the dog for you! 
Meet our blog dog of the month:  Lilly!

Lilly is a wonderful boxer/hound mix who absolutely loves to play with other dogs and spend time with people!  We never have any trouble finding a new playmate for Lilly at the HSEC and we hope that soon she'll find a new home with some forever friends to keep her company!

Lilly can be quite energetic on walks so we recommend that she be walked on a harness but we're happy to report that the secret to harnessing her energy is basic training and affection!  Lilly is one of the smartest dogs we've ever seen and just 20 minutes of clicker training with one of our volunteers made a huge difference in her overall demeanor.  Lilly is a fantastic canine who loves to give hugs and kisses, go on long walks, and wrestle with her doggie friends.

As you can see in this picture Lilly always has a smile on her face and a wag in her tail!  She has a beautiful chestnust brown coat with a white chest and although she has some distinct boxer features in her face she is smaller than the average boxer.  Lilly is about two years old and was found as a stray when she was brought to the HSEC.

If you're interested in coming out to meet Lilly our facility is open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 2-5.  Like all our dogs Lilly has been fully vaccinated, is on flea and tick prevention and she has been spayed and dewormed.  Lilly has also tested negative for heartworms and is on heartworm prevention.  Her adoption fee is $100 which includes a bag of Science Diet dog food and one month of free pet insurance!

If you're looking for a canine companion for life Lilly if your girl!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Flea and Tick season 2012

It's that time of the year again... flea and tick season is upon us.

Or did it ever leave? Many fleas and ticks are capable of surviving our cold season, and the mild winter and lack of serious frost has experts warning that 2012 could be the worst flea and tick season in memory. We'll look at the pests looking to hitch a ride on your pet, and how you can prevent it.
Cat flea

The flea species that live on cats and dogs spend their entire adult lives on the pet, and cannot survive more than a few days without a host. Signs of fleas include little black specks in the fur known as "flea dirt," as well as the actual bugs themselves. Adult fleas are very small, about 1-3mm, and can jump as high as thirteen feet. Flea infestations are uncomfortable, and if left untreated, can cause flea allergy dermatitis and anemia. Fleas can also transmit tapeworms.
Flea on finger

Flea dirt

There are several species of ticks living in North Carolina. You can read more about them here. Like fleas, adult ticks feed on the hosts' blood, though unlike fleas, they do not spend the entirety of their lives on the host, and can survive for several months between feedings. Several diseases can be transmitted by ticks, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, and Ehrlichiosis. If any unusual symptoms are noted after you or your pets are bitten by a tick, seek appropriate medical attention.

Three different species of ticks

Fully engorged embedded dog tick
But don't worry, you can decrease your pet's risk - and your own risk - for attracting these pests. In order to do this, you need to keep fleas and ticks off of your pet, out of your home, and out of your yard.

Keep pests off your pet 

To avoid ticks, stay away from their natural habitat of shrubs and grasses by remaining on paths and roads. Humans can layer their clothing and tuck their pants into their boots. Wearing light colored clothing makes ticks easier to spot. If your pet has been exposed, check your buddy carefully, making sure to look everywhere, including behind the ears and under the collar. (And check yourself as well.) Many insect repellants are effective against ticks, but read labels carefully and do not use repellants on animals unless the label specifically indicates that it is for pets.

Most insect repellants do not work against fleas. There are many methods available to protect your pet against fleas, which include flea collars, topical treatments, and even pills. Some of these are also effective against ticks. Ask your vet to find out the preventative measure that is best for your four-footed family. You will most likely find that one of these methods works best. Don't be afraid to try another method if the first doesn't work.
Keep pests out of your house

Simply vacuuming your home regularly can significantly decrease a pest infestation, especially if you have carpets. Vacuum couches and floor cushions as well, and launder your pet's blankets and other fabric items. If you have a vacuum with a replacable bag, throw the bag away after use. Some people choose to keep pets off furniture, especially beds and couches.

There are also more serious methods for dealing with a flea and tick problem, including pesticides. Seek an expert opinion before you result to treating your home with pesticides, as these can cause health problems for you and your pets if they are not used appropriately.

Keep pests out of your yard

Frequent mowing and yard upkeep helps to cut down on the long grass that fleas and ticks love to live in. Keeping the yard well-watered can actually drown pests. There are also several commercial pesticide sprays that can be applied to your yard. Again, whenever you use pesticides, it's best to do so with expert support and assistance.

What to do if your pet - or you - already has a pest problem

The first step is to get rid of the immediate problem. For a flea infestation, your vet may prescribe a medication which will kill any fleas. A good bath will also get rid of pests - there are commercial flea shampoos available at your local pet store, though many people use any liquid soap, including dish soap. It is a good idea to treat all animals in your home. Your vet will also recommend that you begin a regimen of preventative treatment.

If you or your pet has an embedded tick, don't just yank it out. You're likely to leave the head behind in the skin, which can cause infection. Here's another couple of don'ts: don't apply petroleum jelly or cleaning fluid and don't hold a lit cigarette or match near the tick. These home remedies will not cause the tick to withdraw from the skin and may make it more difficult to remove the tick intact.

The best way to remove a tick is to use tweezers (or a kleenex) to firmly grasp the tick's body. Without twisting or jerking, pull steadily and slowly straight out until the tick is removed. If the tick's mouth parts break off in the skin, remove them as you would a splinter. Wash the bite with soap and water and apply an antiseptic. Note the date of the bite and save the tick - keeping it in rubbing alcohol is best. If you or your pet develops symptoms that could be due to a tick-borne disease, your doctor or vet may want to inspect the tick to determine the species. (Not all species of tick carry all diseases.) The chance of disease transmission from a tick bite is low, but it's a good idea to be prepared just in case.

How to remove a tick
After the fleas and ticks are gone, complete the other steps in this post to prevent or eliminate pests in the future. There are many organic and natural preventatives and remedies that claim to help control fleas and ticks on the pet, in the home, and in the yard, and to treat infestation once it occurs. If this is a concern for you, be sure to ask your vet about these options as well.

These pests are a pain, but with a little bit of preparation, you can rest easy this flea and tick season.