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Cats and FIV

What is FIV?


FIV stands for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus like HIV and it can weaken a cat's immune system. It is a species specific virus, which means that humans and other animals cannot get it. A positive FIV diagnosis still leads to euthanasia with alarming frequency so HART is very proud to be able to dedicate one of our shelter rooms to these cats and provide them with a safe home while they wait for an adopter to fall in love.


How do cats get FIV?


FIV is usually transmitted via a deep bite wound from a FIV+ cat to another cat. It is no easier to transmit than HIV is among humans therefore cats cannot get FIV from just being around infected cats, from sharing litter boxes or food bowls, or from a person touching a FIV+ cat and then touching a FIV-negative cat.


How do I know if a cat has FIV?


There are no obvious signs of FIV so the only way to know is to do a blood test. The most common screening test is an ELISA test (often called a SNAP test) done by your veterinarian, which looks for antibodies to FIV. An antibody is a protein made by the cat in response to the virus. A cat can test positive as soon as two to four weeks after exposure, but it can take up to eight weeks.


Kittens under six months of age may test positive because of antibodies from their mothers. It can take up to six months for these antibodies to go away, therefore it is a good idea to retest a positive kitten after it is six months old.


There are no specific signs of FIV infection. FIV+ cats have a weaker immune system so they are more prone to upper respiratory infections, ringworm, and dental disease. Most FIV+ cats live normal lives and have a typical length of life.


Can FIV be treated?


There are no treatments to rid a cat of FIV. Most FIV+ cats handle the disease well but it is important to concentrate on treating secondary illnesses. FIV+ cats do not need any regular medicine for FIV.  It is important to feed a FIV+ cat a high-quality diet and bring them to the vet right away if they get sick. You may choose to give your FIV+ cat vitamins or supplements to help them stay well, but any additions to your cat’s diet should first be discussed with your veterinarian.


What can be done to prevent the spread of FIV?


Cats should be kept indoors so they do not fight with a FIV+ cat. The cat most likely to have FIV is an unneutered stray male cat as these cats often need to defend their territory and fight for scarce resources.


There is a vaccine for FIV, but it is not recommended because the vaccine has not proven effective and, after a cat is vaccinated for FIV, the cat will test positive for the virus for the rest of its life. At this point, no test can differentiate whether a cat tests positive for FIV from vaccine antibodies or from actually having the virus. 


Can FIV+ and FIV- cats live together?


Yes! Recent studies have tracked long term cohabitation of FIV+ and FIV- cats and found no transmission of the virus. As long as all of the cats are friendly, the risk of a FIV+ cat passing the virus to another cat is minuscule. It is always advised to take introductions slowly when you bring a new cat into the home, even if FIV is not a factor.

Can FIV+ cats have a normal life?


Yes, absolutely! Most FIV+ cats live normal lives both in quality and length. It is rare for a cat to die from FIV. Instead they usually pass from a secondary disease like cancer, kidney failure, or other illnesses associated with advancing feline age. FIV+ cats do need an owner who is attentive and monitoring them for signs of illness or infection. The owner of a FIV+ cat should work closely with their veterinarian to ensure the cat has routine medical and dental care and that it is seen promptly for any changes in health.

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