Journal Scan: Cats' oral health problems linked to retroviral status


The take-home on this one? Think retroviral when you see inflammatory oral disease in cats.

Why they did it

Considering feline retroviral disease's negative impact on the immune system, the researchers sought to determine if there was an association between retroviral status and inflammatory oral disease in naturally infected cats.

What they did

The researchers invited veterinarians from primary care clinics and animal shelters throughout North America to participate in an online training program to educate them in recognizing oral lesions in cats. Following training, veterinarians were asked to score the oral health status of cats examined between September 2012 and May 2013. Cats were categorized “as orally healthy or gingivitis, periodontitis, stomatitis, or another oral condition as the predominant lesion.” Only cats with no known history of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) were included. Age, sex, and neuter status were recorded, and all cats were tested for FIV and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) using an ELISA test.

What they found

Among the 5,179 cats scored, 4.6% were positive for FIV, 3.6% were positive for FeLV, and 0.2% were positive for both viruses. The mean age of all cats was 3.6 years old. The overall oral disease prevalence was 40.6% with the most common lesion being gingivitis (20.7%). The researchers found inflammatory oral disease, particularly stomatitis, was significantly associated with a higher risk of testing positive for FIV compared with cats with other oral diseases or no oral disease. Specifically among cats under 5 years old, the presence of inflammatory oral disease was associated with an increased odds ratio for FIV seropositivity (P < 0.001). Cats with any oral inflammatory disease were more likely to be seropositive for FeLV compared with cats with no oral disease. However, there was no increase in FeLV seropositivity risk among cats with noninflammatory oral lesions (e.g. neoplasia or dental lesions). Among cats that were negative for FeLV and FIV, advanced age was associated with a higher prevalence of oral disease.

The study's authors acknowledge the possibility of false positive retrovirus test results in low prevalence populations or the possibility of misclassified oral lesions. The low participation rate may also have introduced bias.

Take home message 

Retrovirus testing should be considered in all cats with inflammatory oral disease.

Kornya MR, Little SE, Scherk MA, et al. Association between oral health status and retrovirus test results in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2014;245:916-22.

Link to abstract:

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