What You Need To Know About Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Just a few weeks ago, CATS Cradle Shelter rescued a kitten from a hay feeder; a kitten they named Hal and placed in foster care. He is estimated to be about eight weeks old. Unfortunately, he has recently tested positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), though CATS Cradle is holding out hope that it was a false positive, and plan to retest him when he’s a bit older.

Though it may be an unpleasant subject to think about, FIV is something all cat owners need to be aware of. Here are just a few basic facts to consider when it comes to looking after your cat and reducing their risk of infection.


1. FIV is not transferred through casual contact.

FIV cannot be transmitted when cats share the same food or water bowl, or when they groom each other. Most often it’s transmitted through bite wounds, when an infected cat bites another. Cats are safest when they’re indoors, where they’re less likely to be exposed to infected cats that might attack them. Similarly, if your cat has FIV, they should be kept indoors, or at least supervised when they’re outside.

It’s entirely possible for infected cats to live with non-infected cats, as long as they get along and don’t fight each other. However, if you have more than one cat and discover that one of them is FIV-positive, it’s not a bad idea to get the rest of them tested as well.

It’s also possible for an infected mother cat to transfer the virus to her kittens, either during birth or when nursing, but this is rare. Which brings us to our next point:


2. False positives in kittens are not uncommon.

Sometimes kittens born to infected mothers can test positive for FIV. But if the kitten is less than six months old, there’s a chance it’s a false positive caused by ingestion of infected milk. That’s why those kittens should be retested every 60 days until they’re six months old, just to be sure.


3. FIV can go undetected for years.

Unfortunately there are no specific signs of FIV. Often it’s not diagnosed until a cat gets sick so often that the vet considers the possibility that their immune system is compromised.

The most common illnesses include upper respiratory infections, ringworm, and gingivitis. Other signs of immunodeficiency include fever, inflammation of the lymph nodes, poor coat condition, diarrhea, weight loss, and neurological conditions such as seizures. Cancers and blood diseases are also more common in FIV-positive cats.


4. Symptoms can be managed.

Though there is currently no cure for FIV, it’s certainly not a death sentence. It’s possible for an FIV-positive cat to have a full lifespan, albeit with more medicines and vet appointments than the average cat.

While spaying and neutering your pets is always essential, FIV is another factor to consider, as neutering reduces aggression in male cats, thus making it less likely they’ll seek out fights with other cats. Also, if an FIV-positive female cat gets pregnant, it’s likely she will miscarry or have other reproductive issues.

FIV-positive cats should never be fed uncooked food. Avoid raw meats and eggs or unpasteurized dairy products, because cats with compromised immune systems are more vulnerable to food-borne bacterial and parasitic infections.

Take your cat in for a checkup at least every six months. In particular, a vet should focus on the gums, eyes, skin, and lymph nodes of FIV-positive cats during physical examinations, and they should also receive blood counts, serum biochemical analyses, and urine analyses. Since weight loss is often the first sign of health deterioration, their weight should be measured and recorded.


5. There is an FIV vaccine… but many veterinarians are against it.

Despite being FDA-approved, the vaccine does not provide full protection against all strains of FIV. It can even do more harm than good, as it’s an adjuvanted vaccine, which has been linked to tumor development in cats. Not only that, cats who receive this vaccine will test positive for the FIV virus, thus making it impossible to distinguish vaccinated cats from infected ones. Needless to say, there is much research to be done and consideration to be had before deciding whether to give your cat this vaccine.


For more information, head to PetMD, or consult your veterinarian.

– Särah Nour

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