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
My daughter managed to get a black and white stray to stay with us. We found out he had FIV when he got his first shots. That was eight years ago. Other than the regular shots, we had to take him in to care for an abscess and the attendant drugs, and he started getting regular dental treatments/cleanings. Then he disappeared shortly after Christmas last year. I’ve looked and looked, couldn’t find his body. Either something got him and ate him, or somebody picked him up and decided to take him home. He was quite the loverboy, loved sleeping with anybody who let him sleep with them, and even then, if he was in the way, you just moved him, and he didn’t care.
He has been missed.
THANK YOU for posting this. We added it as a link on our FIV/FeLV page. It is just sad how many people think this is such a bad disease…..the press is worse than the disease itself.
Thank you for this article. Many people ignore the fact that cats with this virus can live well. We have one cat with this disease, and he’s in very good health for the moment. He lives with other cats and never fights.
I think this isn’t right to put them down just because they have the disease.
I work with a TNR group that automatically puts cats down that we find who test positive. But a couple months ago I found a beautiful fluffy gray haired feral kitten with white paws whose eyes were so shut by a cold that she let me rescue her. i immediately gave her antibiotics and she began to clear up. Later she tested positive for Luekemia but they wanted to retest her in a month because sometimes tests in such young kittens are not correct. I kept her for a couple weeks and she was a playful baby doll. Then she stopped eating. We tried other meds but she fought us. She lost ground quickly. Sadly, I had to put her to sleep. i guess the reason we put them down is the pain involved when they get so sick. However. I know there are ones at our feral colony that have lived for years with the virus. I can’t advocate killing them. it”s jus so sad to see such a baby die this way.
As a lead volunteer and adoption counselor for Arlington, WA Purrfect Pals, a no kill cat shelter, I made a decision to adopt one of the “harder to adopt” kitties from their FIV+ room.
That was 2008 and “Midget” is one happy healthy kitty and doesn’t even mind taking trips in my motorhome. She is alternately a lap kitty and then will race thru the house sounding like an elephant kitty. If she would let me have another cat, I would not hesitate to adopt another FIV kitty. And of course, always indoors only for these kitties.
THANK YOU for this article! I’ve been a foster volunteer for almost 18 yrs and have fostered and adopted several FIV+ cats. They can indeed live a very long time, staying asymptomatic much like a human who is HIV+ for 15-20 yrs before developing full-blown AIDS. I can also confirm that it **is** safe for FIV+ cats to live with other cats, as long as the cats don’t fight. My FIV cats have shared food/water bowls and litter boxes with my other cats, groomed the other cats, and no one got infected. Casual contact is not a mode of transmission.
So if your vet is telling you that an (otherwise healthy) FIV cat needs to be euthanized or that a docile FIV cat has to be an only cat, that’s OLD thinking and you need to find a better vet.
@ Anita Biers — I’m sorry about your kitten. But Feline Leukemia is a completely different virus than FIV and has a poorer prognosis than FIV. If you’re going to do rescue/TNR work, it’s important to know the difference so you can help educate the public and not spread misinformation.
JaneA, GREAT post about a very important issue. I did not know many of the things you point out here so I imagine others don’t as well. THANK YOU for the info!
Whatever you do, do NOT use Convenia in cats with FIV. It’s a deadly combination. For the love of Jack!
Google: Convenia adverse reactions in cats/felines and dogs/canines and go to the Facebook page.
Juli, thank you for that reminder. I’ve heard a lot about adverse reactions to the Convenia shot (even from some Paws and Effect readers), and I imagine that would only be truer for a cat whose immune system has been weakened by FIV.
And, as a vet pointed out when she retweeted the link to this article, proper vet care and management is crucial to the well-being of FIV-positive cats.
Thank you for posting this. There is so much misinformation about FIV out there, and it breaks my heart to know how many otherwise healthy cats are euthanized because of people not getting it. I love that the no-kill cat shelter in my area has a free-roam room just for FIV+ kitties, and does adopt them out. I had an FIV+ cat who lived to be almost 19 and died of kidney failure (common in old cats), never once had a problem from the FIV other than a slight chronic cold. I had three other cats at the same time, and none of them ever contracted FIV, it is not easy to spread like a cold or even the other major diseases like FIP or Feline Leukemia or Calicivirus or… I studied up on FIV quite a bit when my cat was diagnosed, which happened to be when I was the vet tech program and had a report on “something animal health related” due, so it was perfect timing, and I educate people wherever I can. So it’s exciting to see good information being spread!
My kitty Vinny is about a year old and is FIV positive. We got him from the Seattle Humane Society, and because he’s infected, he’s near had a home. Though he’s jumpy and afraid of loud noise, he’s a very cuddly and happy cat. He LOVES laying on or next to me, getting his tummy pet, and being held. He eats well, I’d say his appetite has increased, which doesn’t seem likely for FIV cats. He lives to play with lasers, string, and we just bought my nephews a foldable tent, which vinny also LOVED to play in. He even knocked it over a few times lol. He had a slight eye infection which requires saline sittin eye drops but other than that he seems very content, lovable, and over all healthy :)
Saline solution* he’s never had a home before I rescued him* sorry for minor spell errors