The words “feline immunodeficiency virus” can strike fear into cat owners’ hearts. They imagine a future of illness and suffering leading to a painful death. FIV-positive cats are automatically put down at kill shelters, and even no-kill rescues have trouble finding homes for these cats. But FIV is nothing to be scared of. Cats infected with the feline immunodeficiency virus can live long, happy and healthy lives just like any other cat, as long as they get proper care.
The feline immunodeficiency virus is a retrovirus like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Like HIV, FIV kills infection-fighting T-cells and weakens the immune system.
FIV is almost always transmitted through deep bite wounds. Mating and casual contact like snuggling doesn’t spread the virus. FIV is species-specific, which means that cats can’t give humans FIV. (Nor, for that matter, can humans give cats HIV.)
The most common test for FIV is the ELISA, sometimes called the “snap test.” If your cat’s been tested for FIV and feline leukemia at your vet’s office or the shelter, they used the ELISA. Vets usually recommend that if a cat tests positive with the ELISA – especially if it’s a weak positive — he or she should be re-tested using the IFA, or Western Blot, to confirm the diagnosis.
So You Have An FIV-Positive Cat. What Now?
First of all, don’t despair. There are a lot of things you can do to keep your FIV-positive cat healthy. If you have other cats, don’t panic: FIV-positive cats can live safely with FIV-negative cats as long as they don’t have bloody fights.
Keep your cat indoors. That way he won’t be exposed to infections from other cats and he won’t run the risk of infecting other cats.
Be sure to keep his stress level as low as possible by minimizing changes in his life.
Feed your FIV-positive cat the best food you can afford. Higher-quality proteins and fewer chemical additives will keep his immune system from being unnecessarily stressed.
Regular vet care is crucial. If your vet sees your FIV-positive cat regularly, she may be able to pick up on potential issues before they become serious problems. If an FIV-positive cat shows even the slightest sign of an infection, he should go to the vet right away.
Treatment generally involves preventive care and helping an FIV-positive cat’s weakened immune system fight off disease with high doses of appropriate medications.
Right now, there is no cure for FIV. However, there has recently been a promising breakthrough in research on the disease, and it’s possible that may change in the not-too-distant future.
Don’t be scared if your cat is diagnosed with FIV. FIV-positive cats have been known to live 20 years or more with no symptoms of any severe disease. Get educated on how best to care for him, and you’ll be able to spend many happy years together.
More Information on FIV
- FIV: Catching a Bad Case of Rumors by Kris Littrell of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, a very reassuring article for people with FIV-positive cats
- How Can I Make Sure My FIV-Positive Cat Lives a Long, Healthy Life?, a Paws and Effect column with more detailed information about care of FIV-positive cats
- FIV In Cats: Not an Automatic Death Sentence, at the about.com cats forum
- Owning an FIV-Positive Cat, an article from the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. There’s also a link at the end of this article for HIV-positive people concerned about pet-to-human disease transmission
- FIVCats, a support and discussion group for people whose cats have FIV