Animal experts on Vancouver Island have issued a warning to pet owners in Nanaimo after a contagious virus was detected in four cats in the last month.

The cats, all in the Harewood community, have tested positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), a disease typically spread from cat to cat through blood, most commonly during fights.

“It’s much like HIV is in humans, cats can live a long time with it, they can live a short time with it, but it is infectious,” said Leon Davis with the Nanaimo SPCA.

A Vancouver Island veterinarian says the disease can suppress an animal’s immune system and make them more prone to certain forms of cancer.

“They get other infections that can make them quite ill and in some cases fatally ill,” said Ken Langelier, medical director at Island Veterinary Hospital. “It’s a life-long quality of life problem.”

Nanaimo Animal Control Services took to Facebook to warn cat owners to keep their felines indoors to prevent it from spreading.

The animal service says the virus is typically found in rural areas and the fact that it’s been discovered in a residential neighbourhood is cause for concern.

“It’s certainly the first time that we’ve had four positives in one area so quickly together,” said pound and adoption coordinator Carley Colclough.

Experts say the illness can be difficult to detect and recommend all cats be tested. 

“Not spaying and neutering your cats will cause them to kind of roam, can cause them to fight more and those two things are what are going to transmit diseases,” said Davis.

There is a vaccine for FIV, but Langelier says not one that he would recommend.

“[It] hasn’t proven overly effective so it’s not even on our list of recommended vaccines because the strains vary, the efficacy of the vaccine is always questionable,” he said.