Understanding FIV

What is FIV?
FIV stands for feline immunodeficiency virus. The virus depletes the number of white blood cells which eventually makes the cat less able to fight infection. However, it is such a slow acting virus many FIV+ cats enjoy a normal life span with no apparent health problems resulting from the virus. It is in the same class of viruses as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the causative agent of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in people.

Is FIV the same as feline AIDS?
Being infected with FIV is not the same as having feline AIDS. Feline AIDS (FAIDS) describes the terminal stages of disease associated with FIV infection that may not occur for many years, and does not invariably develop in all infected cats.

Can humans or other animals catch FIV? 
No - FIV is species specific. It can only be transmitted from cat to cat, not to humans or other animals.

How is FIV transmitted? 
The most comon way the infection spreads is through deep bite wounds and scratches, the kind that usually occurs during aggressive fights and territorial disputes where the infected cat's blood-tainted saliva enters the other cat's bloodstream.
It is unlikely, although possible, for an FIV+ mother to give FIV to her kittens either in the womb or through her milk althrough this is very rare and not all kittens in a litter can be infected only a third of kittens born to FIV-positive mothers actually have FIV themselves. 
Unlike HIV sexual contact is not a major means of spreading FIV.
It can also be spread through blood transfusions.

What are the symptoms of FIV?
There are no specific signs of FIV infection. FIV-positive cats have a weaker immune system so they are more prone to getting infections become repeatedly ill and taking a long time to recover from infections. Other than that, FIV-positive cats tend to live normal lives and have a normal length of life.

How do I know if my cat has FIV?
Vets can quickly perform a blood test that detects the antibodies to the virus in the blood. An antibody is a protein made by the cat in response to FIV infection. A cat can test positive as soon as two to four weeks after exposure, but it can take up to eight weeks. However results can give a false negative if the cat has only recently been exposed to the virus, as it can take up to eight weeks for the cat to produce antibodies.  

Can FIV be treated?
There are no proven treatments to rid a cat of FIV once a cat has FIV, they will be FIV positive for the rest of their life. Most FIV-positive cats handle the disease well, but it is important to concentrate on treating the secondary illnesses. Vets will treat each FIV-positive cat individually, depending on the secondary illnesses they develop.

What can be done to prevent the spread of FIV?
Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine for FIV in the UK although, getting your cat neutered reduces their chance of contracting FIV through fighting because neutering reduces the tendency to fight, or to wander.

Can FIV-negative and FIV-positive cats live together?
Yes, as long as the cats get along and do not fight aggressively. The virus is delicate and easily killed by disinfectants, therefore simple precautions and routine cleaning procedures will prevent transmission of the virus in normal household environment. FIV-positive and FIV-negative cats can live happily together, grooming each other and sharing food bowls and litter trays. Cats are far more at risk of being bitten by an unknown feral or stray FIV-positive cat than by a friendly, neutered, FIV-positive cat living as part of the family.

Should FIV+ cats be allowed outside?

This is a decision to be taken on a case by case basis, depending on the natures of the cats involved. Since most FIV positive cats are used to going outdoors, it would affect adversely their quality of life and increase stress if they were to be denied access outdoors. Keeping your cat indoors is helpful as it reduces the likelihood of your cat picking up infections from other cats as well as reducing the spread of the virus from your cat to other cats.

What can I do to help my FIV cat?
You can help your cat by ensuring it has a healthy life-style and good quality food together with regular worming, preventive flea treatment and regular veterinary check-ups. Any infections should be treated promptly keep a careful eye on your FIV cat to notice any sign of ill-health, and investigate sooner, rather than later. You should avoid feeding raw meat and dairy to your cat and prevent it from hunting, where possible, as this carries infections, which can be particularly serious in FIV-infected cats. Any problem, such as not eating, should not be left for long without getting a vet’s opinion because gum infections are often an early problem with FIV cats. FIV-positive cats can live normal lives both in quality and duration.