Feline immunodeficiency virus, more commonly referred to as FIV, attacks the immune system, leaving a cat unable to fight off many infections and cancers. FIV is closely related to the human immunodeficiency virus and like HIV, FIV will eventually turn into AIDS, which causes severe damage to the immune system and death. A cat with FIV can live a normal life before they develop AIDS. There is no cure for FIV but interferon, which stimulates the immune system, is often given to cats to slow the spread of the disease.
Interferon is a naturally occurring protein that is made and secreted by cells of the immune system. There are three types of interferon: alpha, beta and gamma. Human interferon alpha is used in cats to treat FIV. Interferon does not attack and directly kill a disease; it simply boots the immune system's response to disease.
How Interferon Works
Interferon stimulates a cat's immune system by stifling the replication of FIV inside host cells, which then slows the growth of the infection. Additionally, it helps the cat's immune system recognise host cells that have been infected with FIV, so those cells can be destroyed.
Interferon is most effective if treatment begins as soon as FIV symptoms are detected. It is administered daily. Interferon is generally used orally if symptoms are mild. In the oral form, it can be given directly to the cat with a dropper or be put on the cat's food. If symptoms are severe, interferon is given by injection.
According to Vetinfo.com, the dosage for cats is 30 IU of interferon daily for seven days, then a seven-day break from the medication. This can be repeated as long as symptoms persist.
Interferon use in cats presents few side effects, however, the most common are appetite loss, nausea and vomiting. Severe side effects, which are extremely rare, include nervous system and liver damage, as well as anaemia.
After three to seven weeks of use, cats will develop antibodies to interferon alpha and this will limit its useful treatment time span.
There is an increased risk for complications in cats that have an autoimmune disease, severe cardiac or pulmonary disease, diabetes, herpes infection, neurologic disorders or respiratory infections.