FIV General Info
FIV – Kitty “Aids”
At CFC, we typically house between 15-20 FIV+ cats at any given time; AND have a very long waiting list of cats with FIV in need of a space. If you are considering adding a cat to your family, please don’t let the fear of FIV dissuade you from selecting a cat testing positive for FIV. It is not a death sentence and cats can live many years symptom-free. Providing a low-stress indoor living environment, healthy diet, and regular veterinary checkups are key to keeping your FIV+ cat (or any cat for that matter) in good health!
What Is FIV?
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a retrovirus, in the same family as HIV. Retroviruses such as FIV tend to be species specific and not transmittable from a cat to a human or cat to a dog, for example. Both FIV and HIV are lentiviruses which progress slowly but result in life-long infection. Researchers have found that FIV virus has been in existence for many years (the Cornell Feline Center found that stored feline serum dating back to 1958 has been tested and found to be positive for FIV). However, it was first identified in 1986 by Janet Yamamoto, PhD, a professor of pathobiology at the University of Florida in Gainesville together with Niels Pederson, DVM, PhD, of the University of California at Davis.
Early signs of FIV are typically mild and transient – in fact, you may not even realize an FIV positive cat is sick. They may run a brief fever or not eat for a couple of days or, in general, feel blah. Then the cats become free of signs. A basic blood test can be done by a veterinarian to determine if a cat is positive. Accuracy is very good with cats and kittens over 12 weeks of age. Although rare, FIV can be transmitted from an infected mother to her kittens during gestation or by the newborns drinking her infected milk or by blood transfusion. Kittens may carry antibodies from their mother without actually having the virus – so any kittens testing positive should be retested once they are more than 3-4 months old.
FIV is not easily spread to other cats and is much less communicable than another retrovirus – feline leukemia virus. If you have an indoor cat that has tested negative for FIV, he or she has virtually no chance of becoming FIV positive. However, if your cat roams out-of-doors, there is a good chance he or she will be involved in a cat fight and be bitten by a cat that is infected. The major mode of transmission is through blood or cells in saliva, mainly via cat-to-cat bites.
In July 2002 a vaccine to protect cats from developing this disease became available. Not all veterinarians are in favor of giving this vaccine – except to cats at high risk – because the vaccine will result in a positive test for the virus. This would mean that a cat may appear to have the disease but in reality, is not infected. Cats at high risk are those who roam out-of-doors regularly and are at risk of fighting with an infected cat. Research continues and it is hoped that a test will be developed that may eventually provide clear indication whether or not a cat has FIV.
FIV positive cats make wonderful companions – for humans and for other felines. In our experience, a positive cat can safely live with a healthy cat, IF they are compatible personalities. For over 10 years CFC was in a position of having both FIV+ and FIV- cats living together. On a regular basis we would spot test the negative cats for FIV and we always re-test a cat that suddenly becomes ill. We have NEVER had a negative cat test positive in a re-check situation. The key is introducing an FIV+ cat into a home with one or more other cats in the proper way. If you are considering adopting an FIV+ cat, we would be happy to talk with you about a procedure for introducing a new cat to an existing cat companion. (Or see our article: Introducing An FIV+ Cat to an FIV- Cat)
Reference: Catnip, A Magazine for Caring Cat Owners; Tufts University School Of Veterinary Medicine; October 2003. [Note: CFC subscribes to this monthly publication and if you are interested in a timely and well-written newsletter covering all aspects of feline health and behavior, we would recommend that you subscribe. The editorial office is in Greenwich, CT (Belvoir Publications) and their e-mail address is: CatnipLetters@hotmail.com.]