First and foremost, there is a difference between FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and FeLV (Feline Leukemia). Both are very different viruses and often mentioned together in lab tests conducted by veterinarians. If you rescue or adopt a cat that shows it has FIV, it is still possible for that cat to have a normal lifespan without health problems. The virus is slow to act as it depletes the number of white blood cells that fight off infection however an FIV cat can still enjoy a happy life. The virus has received quite a bit of attention because it falls into the same category as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) but it can only be transmitted from cat to cat, but not easily and it cannot be transmitted to humans or other animals. Cats with FIV live normal lives and rarely develop disease or health problems. The virus is found in the saliva and blood of infected cats however it cannot survive outside the body making it difficult to pass to other cats. The primary way the virus is passed to another cat is through biting another cat where it is injected directly into the bloodstream of the cat that is bitten. If a cat bites an infected cat, there is less risk of it becoming infected. The groups of cats that are most likely to become infected are ‘tom’ cats that are not neutered and the feral cats who must compete for food. It cannot be transmitted on hands, clothes, shoes or food like in feline leukemia. The best way to prevent your cat from becoming infected is to make sure it stays indoors and get it neutered. This might be difficult to enforce especially if your cat enjoys going outside so neutering your cat is the most effective way to prevent or reducing the likelihood of infection. Signs and Symptoms Typically, there are not any visible signs and may not be apparent unless a blood test is completed. Raised lymph nodes can occur about 6-8 weeks after becoming infected and often accompany a high temperature. Conjunctivitis or diarrhea may occur for a short time. Gum inflammation, sniffling, sneezing and a milky discharge from the eyes or nose may be seen. Kidney failure may occur in a small number of cases. The fact that a cat with FIV may be more susceptible to other infections, it does not mean they still can’t live healthy lives. The most common infection is stomatitis and gingivitis that is inflammation of the gums and mouth, however this is quite common in cats that are fed a diet of canned food. They can be treated with a dental cleaning and polish with antibiotics, if required. Other health problems can occur like diarrhea, conjunctivitis and bronchitis, however these are rare and can be treated if caught in time. A cat infected with FIV can still be able to fight the virus for several years and be treated with appropriate treatments and medications, if needed. With good care and lots of love, many FIV positive cats live normal lifespans of fifteen years or more and are relatively safe to have in your home. You can feel confident and secure about adopting a cat with FIV knowing you are helping a loving animal that is sure to bring you years of companionship and love.
Reviewed and approved by David L. Robert, DVM
Photo: Courtesy of Tambako The Jaguar via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)