The Cause of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and Other Retroviral Diseases

Posted on May 5th, 2016

FELV, FIV and FIP have all been recognized for many years and are thought to be quite contagious for all cats, but as this article continues, you may find that this may not be totally true.

Unfortunately with inbreeding, whether on purpose or due to feral cats natural instincts, as the gene pool becomes to close, a simple hormone antibody imbalances has been produced which can only end in death if unrecognized and untreated.

This all can be avoided with a simple blood test which will allow for the correction of this hormone antibody imbalance.

The purpose of this article is to provide the cause of retroviruses and not just their effects and a way to identify and treat the disease before it becomes irreversible.

For all of you that rescue cats, please be aware of the fact that if the cat has a gingival flare, without correcting that flare, if the cat comes in contact with a retrovirus, the cat may develop FELV, FIV or FIP depending on the exposure to a cat that is a carrier of one of these retroviruses or a cat that actually is suffering from one of the retroviral diseases.

What is a gingival flare?

This is a redline that appears on the gum of the cat where the gum reflects upon the enamel of the tooth.

This redline represents a deficiency in the mucous membrane antibody which occurs throughout the body of the cat called IgA.

This occurs because of a hormone imbalance that allows for the production of elevated adrenal estrogen that deregulates and suppresses the immune system that no longer can protect the body from diseases.

The gingival flare is an easy way to determine that the cat may develop a host of other disorders sooner than later in life.

The genetics of the cat may determine the impact area where the disorder will occur which may not end up as a retroviral infection but may end up as a chronic bladder infection, chronic skin problems, neuroma of the bottom lip, feline acne, rodent ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, allergic respiratory disorders, idiopathic epilepsy, cancer etc., etc., etc..

Prior to the development of these various disorders, 70 % of the cats with this predisposed imbalance will have a visible gingival flare easily seen unless the gums are heavily pigmented and 30 % will not have a visible gingival flare.

I am not sure why has this not been recognized before, because it may be a simple indicator of serious disorders to come.

The gingival flare occurs due to an elevated adrenal estrogen caused by a cortisol that is produced by the middle layer adrenal cortex that is either, deficient, bound or defective.

This occurs due to inbreeding or can be acquired through environmental imbalances and various medical procedures, vaccines, anesthesia, food toxins, damaging heavy metals, radiation, stress, poor nutrition and a lack of exercise.

Trust me, when I tell you our animals our very similar to ourselves and provide much better insight then the insight that so many academic articles relate to our animals and ourselves that are done on mice, rats and guinea pigs.

As mentioned before, the flare or IgA imbalance comes from the natural inability of cortisol to fund the negative feedback to the pituitary gland.

When the natural cortisol is not recognized by the pituitary gland because the cortisol is deficient, bound or defective, the pituitary gland keeps producing its hormone called ACTH to cause the release of increased amounts of normal cortisol.

Since the cortisol production is inadequate, the pituitary ACTH continues its release and the inner layer adrenal cortex responds with the production of elevated adrenal estrogen.

What is the significance of this elevated adrenal estrogen?

This elevated adrenal estrogen not only binds the receptor sites of the thyroid hormone, but causes the protective immune system not be able to recognize self-tissue and make anti- antibodies while also creating cancer.

The problem does not stop here, because the elevated estrogen also causes the immune cells that produce protective antibodies to cease their production and open up the body to al kinds of infection.

How does this now relate to FELV, FIV and FIP?

Since the elevated adrenal estrogen deregulates the immune system, the various populations of these immune cells lose their function to protect the body against viruses.

The B lymphocyte will no longer protect the patient against bacteria and will also not allow the body to make protective antibodies to vaccines.

The T lymphocyte will no longer protect the cat from viruses, mold and fungi.

Here in lies the major problem.

If the cat with the hormonal imbalance and deregulated, deficient, immune system is exposed to one or more of the retroviruses, the cat will most likely develop FELV, FIV or FIP.

The cats that do not have the hormone antibody imbalance will be able to correctly process the retrovirus without developing the disease.

This is why I made the statement that retroviruses may not be contagious to all cats.

Of possible interest to you, is the fact that with this hormone, antibody imbalance, vaccines are unable to stimulate protective antibodies, therefore vaccination of a hormone antibody, compromised cat will not create an antibody response and vaccinating an uncompromised cat is fine however being uncompromised the cat will not develop a retrovirus any way.

I personally believe that the vaccinating of healthy cats for retroviruses may help reduce the natural population of retroviruses and should probably be continued unless the cat has an allergic reaction to the vaccine.

If a vaccine reaction does occur, this may be further evidence that the cat has an imbalance and may be in the 30 % group that never develops a gingival flare.

Please also remember that a cat may test positive for a retrovirus and if its hormone antibody levels are not too far imbalanced the cat might remain a carrier of the retrovirus and never develop the actual disease.

This appears to be the same mechanism in humans with the HIV virus.

In a house hold of more than one cat, and one cat is positive for a retrovirus, there is a concern about that cat exposing the other cat or cats.

It is best to tests the other cat or cats to see if any are positive.

If they are positive, this may indicate the cat or cats may have the hormone antibody imbalance that would allow for a retroviral disease to occur.

The cat or cat that tests negative is worth watching but is usually safe.

The cat or cats that test positive for a retrovirus can have the endocrine immune test done and corrected so that the positive retroviral test does not develop into the actual disease.

Once corrected, many of these cats will tests negative and the thought that once a cat tests positive or develops the retroviral disease the cat will always remain positive is not always the case.

What is the endocrine immune blood test if it needs to be done?

The endocrine immune test is a very simple test I have designed over the years that measures cortisol, total estrogen, T3, T4 and three main antibodies called immunoglobulins which are IgA, IgM and IgG. Note: many years ago I also measured IgD and IgE,

and found them not to add much significance to the identification and treatment of a retroviral imbalance.

A full discussion is available at on how to do the test, how to handle the sample and where to send the sample for proper processing.

Over the years, I have found that once properly treated, if permanent organ damage has not occurred, 85 % of the FELV patients can lead a normal life if kept on replacement hormone.

FIV and FIP patients will usually recover in 70 % of the cases.

For your consideration and edification, I will discuss three fairly typical clinical cases of cats with these three retroviral diseases.


This case involved a 6 month old cat that was showing clinical signs of FELV.

This was a neutered male kitten that had the gingival flare, was not eating and badly dehydrated and was positive for FELV.

This was a referral and all other standard blood tests had been done to rule out other possible causes.

The endocrine immune blood test was done and the following are the results.


Cortisol = .3ug/dL 1 to 2.5 ug/dL

Total Estrogen = 25.13 pg/ml 20 to 25 pg/ml

T3 = 72 ug/dL 100 to 200 ug/dL

T4 = 1.2 ug/dL 2 to 4.5 ug/dL

IgA = 54 ug/dL 70 to 170ug/dL

IgM = 85 ug/dL 100 to 200 ug/dL

IgG = 890 ug/dL 1000 to 2000 ug/dL

Note: In male cats the normal total estrogen levels are 20 to 25 pg/ml. In female cats the total estrogen is 30 to 35 pg/ml.

All other hormone antibody levels are the same for both males and females.


The male kitten has a cortisol deficiency that had caused elevated adrenal estrogen which in turn has deregulated his B and T populations of immune cells which will no longer protect him, and has caused all his immunoglobulins to be deficient.

Any time the IgA level is below 58 ug/dL, the patient usually cannot absorb oral steroids and many other larger molecule supplements.

With any patient with a catastrophic disease, injectable hormones are much safer than risking malabsorption, with an oral replacement hormone.

Even with a thyroid imbalance, most cats seem not to need thyroid hormone replacement which will be indicated once the hormone antibody replacement becomes complete.

If after the hormone imbalances have been corrected if the thyroid hormone is still deficient, then oral twice a day thyroid supplement needs to be done.

The only exception to this is with the treatment of a patient suffering from FIP.

All FIP patients need to begin thyroid replacement immediately.

The kitten was given a combination of two intramuscular injections of a steroid at a 10 day interval, in order to replace his deficient natural cortisol and at the same time reduce the total estrogen, increase his IgA and begin to restore the protection by the B and T immune cells.

The combination steroid involves giving a short acting steroid in combination with a long acting steroid.

The reason for doing this is because the short acting steroid will get into the patients imbalanced system immediately while the long acting steroid may take 4 to 5 days to actually work.

I do this only to begin to help the patient sooner than later.

This particular kitten went on the oral replacement cortisol 10 days after his 2nd injection and actually lived to 28 years of age and was able to shed the virus.

Please also realize that the cortisol level can be very high, however if the total estrogen also is high, this indicates that the cortisol is bound or defective and definitely not recognized by the pituitary gland.

This is called Plechner Syndrome.


This case was a 2 years old female, spayed cat that had developed FIV and was in a general, overall decline.

An endocrine immune blood test was done and the following are the test results.


Cortisol = .56 ug/dL 1 to 2.5 ug/dL

Total Estrogen = 35.21 pg/ml 30 to 35 pg/ml

T3 = 1.20 ug/dL 100 to 200 ug/dl

T4 = 2.2ug/dL 2 to 4.5 ug/dL

IgA = 51 ug/dL 70 to 170 ug/dL

IgM = 73 ug/dL 100 to 200 ug/dL

IgG = 790 ug/dL 1000 to 2000ug/dL


With an IGA level of 51 ug/dL, the cat needed 3 intramuscular injections of the combination steroid at a 10 day interval and then began oral steroids 10 days after the 3rd injection.

It is important to also remember that if the patient is better but not perfect, more than 3 injections may be indicated.

In only a small percent of cases does the injection need to be continued because the patient is unable to absorb oral steroids.

If this is the case, I often show the cat’s owner how to give the injections at home and normally those injections will only be needed once a month.

Fortunately the cat was in the 70 % of the FIV patients and is now fine and should live a happy, long, normal life.


This was a 2 year old male, neutered cat that was positive for FIP.

He did have the wet form of the disease that allowed for fluid buildup in his abdominal cavity.

Normally I do not suggest removing the fluid from the cat unless the fluid buildup is in thoracic cavity and you do not have that choice.

Normally once the imbalance is corrected the excess fluid will be absorbed.

The endocrine immune blood test was performed and the following are the results.


Cortisol = 4.4 ug/dL 1 to 2.5 ug/dL

Total Estrogen = 25.16 pg/ml 20 to 25 pg/ml

T3 = 90 ug/dL 100 to 200 ug/dL

T4 = 1.74 ug/dL 2 to 4.5 ug/dL

IgA = 52 ug/dL 70 to 170 ug/dL

IgM = 82 ug/dL 100 to 200 ug/dL

IgG = 910 ug/dL 1000 to 2000 ug/dL


This particular cat is producing a bound or defective cortisol that has allowed for the elevated adrenal estrogen to cause the immune system to be deregulated and deficient.

Because the adrenal estrogen is elevated it says the elevation in the cortisol is bound or defective.

Often this elevated, damaged cortisol is called Cushing Syndrome which it is not.

Cushing Syndrome deals will elevated, active levels of cortisol which is not the case with this cat.

Elevated inactive or damaged cortisol is referred to as Plechner Syndrome.

Of great importance is the fact that FIP patients all require a T4 supplement twice daily along with a steroid to re initiate a normal endocrine immune imbalance.

It is recognized in people and dogs that an elevated total estrogen, will bind the receptor sites for thyroid hormone and a thyroid supplement must be given.

This also seems true for all cats with FIP and in this instance this cat actually was showing a T3 and T4 deficiency.

The immune deregulation is just one more reason why the T cell system has not protected the cat from the FIP virus.

Hopefully this article will be of value and will provide a way to help your cat that may be suffering from a retroviral disease.

These are only my thoughts.


Dr. AL Plechner