Understanding FIV

Principal Natural Treatments: Glycoproteins such as acemannan, orthomolecular therapy

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) affects mainly cats with exposure to the outdoor environment; most commonly, intact males are infected. The virus is spread by biting. Once infected, most cats do not develop the disease for many years (the median age of healthy infected cats is 3 years of age, whereas the median age of clinically ill cats is 10 years of age, indicating a latent period of an average of 7 years).

Primary FIV infections present with fever and lymph node enlargement. The most typical signs seen in infected FIV-positive cats are chronic diseases, such as diarrhea, skin infections, and dental disease. However, any clinical signs (such as seizures) can occur as the signs that are seen depend upon the specific body tissue infected by the virus. Cats who persistently test positive on the blood tests for the virus will usually be infected for life.


Glycoproteins such as acemannan may be helpful, or orthomolecular therapy.


Glycoproteins are protein molecules bound to carbohydrate molecules. Glycoprotein molecules coat the surface of every cell with a nucleus in the human body. The body uses the glycoproteins on cell surface glycoconjugates as communication or recognition molecules. These communications may then result in other cellular events, including secretion of bioactive substances (interferon, interleukin- 1, complement), ingestion of bacteria and cell debris, inhibition of adherence necessary for bacterial infection, and the spread of cancer cell metastasis.

Scientists have identified eight sugars, glycoforms, found on human cell surfaces glycoforms that are involved in cellular recognition processes. Of the 200 such sugars occurring naturally in plants, to date only these eight have been identified as components of cellular glycoproteins. These eight sugars that are essential for glycoconjugate synthesis (mannose, galactose, fucose, xylose, glucose, sialic acid, N-acetylglucosamine, N-acetylgalactosamine) can be readily absorbed and directly incorporated into glycoproteins and glycolipids.

Recent research has found specific cell surface glycoforms to be characteristic of many disease conditions. In some patients with rheumatoid arthritis, some defense cells (IgG antibody) bear malformed glycoproteins. These cells are missing required galactose molecules; the extent to which the galactose molecules are missing correlates with disease severity and reverses in disease remission. In people with cancer, more than 20 different malignancies are known to be associated with characteristic glycoproteins.

Glyconutritional supplements are designed to provide substrates for the body to use in building part of the glycoconjugates on cell surfaces. These supplements, most commonly acemannan and mannose, are designed to make the necessary sugars available to the cells quicker and in greater quantity.

Acemannan is a glycoprotein (a long chain of mannan polymers with random o-acetyl groups) derived from the aloe vera plant that has been shown to increase the body's production of immune-modulating chemicals, including interleukins 1 and 6, interferon-gamma, and Prostaglandin E2 and tumor necrosis factor alpha by macrophages. Acemannan also enhances macrophage phagocytosis and nonspecific cytotoxicity, which increases the ability of white blood cells (macrophages) to destroy infectious organisms. Glycoproteins such as acemannan also offer antiviral activity as well as bone marrow stimulating activity

Scientific Evidence

Acemannan has been proposed as an adjunctive therapy for cats with feline immunodeficiency virus. In one study of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infections, a 75% survival rate was obtained for cats in Stage 3, 4, or 5 (seriously ill cats for which life expectancy is up to one year for Stage 4 cats and 1 to 6 months for stage 5 cats). Cats showed increased body weight, decreased lymph node size, and a reduction in sepsis (infections that are commonly seen in end stage FIV cats). Neutrophil counts improved, as well as lymphocyte counts, indicating an improvement in the immune status of the infected cats. Cats responded regardless of route of administration of acemannan (weekly IV injection or weekly subcutaneous injection, of 2 mg/kg acemannan, or daily oral administration of 100 mg/cat acemannan). No signs of toxicity were noted in any cats, although four cats given the IV injections showed an immediate allergic reaction, which commonly occurs in cats given IV push injections of very large molecular weight compounds such as acemannan).

In these studies, all cats remained virus positive but experienced a noticeable improvement in the quality of life. While acemannan (and other glycoproteins) may be helpful for cats with immunodeficiency viral infections, more studies are needed to determine what if any true long-term benefit infected cats might experience. At the current time, acemannan and other glycoproteins such as mannose, one of eight glycoproteins found in the oral supplement, Ambrotose, probably serve as a useflul treatment option for this chronic feline viral disease for which conventional therapies really do not exist (conventional therapies are of no particular benefit and serve mainly to support the sick cat).

All eight of the glycoconjugate sugars are readily absorbed from the intestines when taken orally Studies have shown intact mannose molecules are rapidly absorbed from the intestine of rats into the blood, elevating the blood mannose levels by 3- to 10-fold, and mannose is cleared from the blood within hours. The conclusion reached was that mannose was absorbed from the intestinal tract into the blood and from the blood into the cells. These studies suggest that dietary mannose may make a significant contribution to glycoform synthesis in mammals.

Other human and animal ingestion studies show that mannose is readily absorbed, and is cleared from the blood over several hours; some of the mannose was incorporated into glycoproteins. After absorption into the blood, glycoconjugate sugars generally become distributed (usually as glycoproteins and glycolipids) into body fluids, organs, and various body tissues.

In one study, healthy humans were given radiolabeled galactose, mannose or glucose. This study showed that galactose and mannose were directly incorporated into human glycoproteins without first being broken down into glucose. The conclusion was that specific dietary sugars could represent a new class of nutrients and that the use of these nutrients could have important consequences. Therapy with mannose offers a treatment that is easy to administer and is nontoxic.

Glycoconjugate sugars have been shown to kill bacteria and viruses and prevent infection caused by them. For example, mannose acts to prevent bacterial infection by binding to the sites on the bacteria and preventing attachment of the bacteria to sites on the cells of the host. Glycoconjugate sugars display anti-viral activity as a result of their ability to stimulate macrophages to release interferon. They also interfere with normal virus function.

Adverse effects caused by glycoconjugate sugars are rare and usually occur when they are injected or when doses greatly exceed levels that would be expected in normal diets. For pets being treated with the most commonly used glycoproteins (acemannan and mannose), side effects would not be expected.

Orthomolecular Therapy

Orthomolecular medicine (often called "megavitamin therapy") seeks to use increased levels of vitamins and minerals (mainly antioxidants) to help treat a variety of medical disorders. While daily amounts of vitamins and minerals have been recommended as an attempt to prevent nutritional deficiencies, orthomolecular medicine uses higher doses as part of the therapy for disease.

The pet food industry relies on recommendations by the National Research Council (NRC) to prevent diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies in the "average" pet; yet, the NRC has not attempted to determine the optimum amount of nutrients or their effects in treating medical disorders. While a minimum amount of nutrients may be satisfactory in preventing diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies, it is important to realize that there is no "average" pet, and that every pet has unique nutritional needs.

It is unlikely that our current recommendations are adequate to maintain health in every pet. Each pet has unique requirements for nutrients. Additionally, these needs will vary depending upon the pet's health. For example, in times of stress or disease additional nutrients above and beyond those needed for health will be required. Orthomolecular medicine evaluates the needs of the pet and uses increased nutrients to fight disease.

While orthomolecular therapy of FIV infection has not been reported, it might be worth a try as it has shown helpful in some cats with feline leukemia virus infection. Orthomolecular therapy of feline leukemia utilizes 750 mg of sodium ascorbate, 750 IU of vitamin A, and 75 IU of vitamin E. A number of cats on this protocol tested negative for leukemia virus within 2 years of initial diagnosis on both ELISA and IFA tests. Also, many cats displaying signs of chronic illness became devoid of symptoms. Since false negative test results are possible, all cats testing negative on blood ELISA testing treated with or thomolecular therapy should have follow-up IFA testing done.


There is no cure for FIV infection. Clinical signs are treated as needed; chronic infections are treated with antibiotics. Supportive care for cats with fever and lack of appetite (such as fluid therapy and force-feeding) are used as needed; human alpha-interferon may be helpful.

Excerpt from The Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats: FIV used by permission of Prima Publications.
Copyright © 2001 by Shawn Messonnier, D.V.M. All rights reserved. Excerpt from The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, Prima Publishing, Roseville, CA.

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