white and tiger kitten

FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), also known as Feline AIDS, is a virus that can be spread from one cat to another through exposure to infected blood or saliva. Housemates who are able to coexist peacefully with one another are commonly not at risk of transmission. It is important to know the facts about FIV in order to avoid transmission to those cats who are not exposed.

What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)?

FIV is a virus which is specific only to cats and weakens the body’s immune system. While this virus can be spread from one cat to another, it cannot be transmitted to other species including humans. Due to the immunosuppressive nature of this virus, it leaves cats much more susceptible to contracting other illnesses. Although a cat with FIV may live a fairly normal life, it is important to continue regular visits with your veterinarian.

How is FIV spread?

FIV is most often spread through cat bites sustained during a cat fight, either through exposure to blood or saliva. While contraction of this virus is most commonly spread through cat fights, FIV is occasionally transmitted to kittens by their mothers – either through drinking infected milk or while passing through the birth canal.

What are the signs of FIV?

In the early stages of disease (about 4-6 weeks after infection), cats may begin to exhibit some of the following symptoms:

  • Enlarged Lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

Cats who are infected with FIV may show little to no initial symptoms and may live many seemingly healthy years without incident. In later stages of this disease, FIV positive cats may begin to show other more serious signs such as inflammation of the gums, persistent diarrhea, upper respiratory and/or urinary infections and seizures. Unfortunately many FIV positive cats will likely succumb to illness at a younger age.

It is vitally important for your pet’s health to stay up to date with regular veterinary visits (ideally twice a year for FIV positive cats). Illnesses can likely be better managed when caught early on. If you believe your cat may be exhibiting any of these symptoms it is important to seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible. A simple blood test performed at your vet’s office can determine your pet’s FIV status. It is important to note that although FIV can be fairly easy to diagnose, there are some things to consider:

  • Cats in the very early stages of infection may not test positive.
  • Although a vaccination for FIV does exist, it is no longer given. Cats who were once vaccinated against FIV will show positive on future tests.
  • Kittens may test FIV positive due to maternal antibodies passed down from an FIV positive mother. These kittens should therefore be retested 4-6 weeks after the original test.

Caring for your FIV positive cat:

  • Although there is no current cure for FIV, it can be possible to manage symptoms.
  • Many FIV positive cats can live for years without any major health issues, though it is still important to keep an open line of communication with your veterinarian.
  • Medications can likely be prescribed to manage symptoms associated with illnesses caused by this disease.
  • FIV positive cats should be kept indoors for their own safety and for the safety of other cats. It is also important to keep your FIV positive cat indoors to help contain the spread of disease.
  • A high-quality diet is vital in keeping your pet healthy. Avoid raw/uncooked foods which can introduce food-borne infections.
  • Due to an FIV positive cat’s weakened ability to fight infection, it is important to contact your veterinarian immediately if any new or worsening symptoms occur.