About FIV

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

There are so many questions around FIV, but this page explains all - FIV is to be understood and carefully managed, not feared.

What FIV is NOT

  • FIV is NOT a death sentence for your cat
  • FIV is NOT easily passed between cats
  • FIV is NOT passed to humans
  • FIV is NOT passed to other species e.g. dogs

What FIV IS

  • FIV is a virus that affects a cat's immune system slowly over a matter of years.
  • It was discovered in 1986, but has been around for a lot longer.
  • FIV is a virus specific to cats and only cats. 
  • It cannot exist for more than a few seconds outside the body.
  • It is normally transmitted from cat to cat by severe bites, but occasionally it can be transmitted during mating, or an infected mother cat can pass it to her kittens via her milk.
  • FIV is most commonly diagnosed in cats aged 5-10 years old, especially feral, stray or free-roaming toms.
  • FIV has no symptoms.  It is not likely that you would suspect that your cat has FIV.
  • A well cared-for neutered cat of either sex, living in a stable home, and kept in at night, is very unlikely to come into contact with the virus.

How can I help my cat avoid FIV?

  • NEUTER YOUR CAT - Neutered cats seldom get involved in fights.
  • Keep your cat vaccinated.
  • Keep your cat indoors at night, because this is the most likely time for cats to fight.
  • Keep a close eye on your cat's health.  If he/she has a lot of minor illnesses (snuffles, diarrhoea and so on) and he/she goes out and has had fights (whether as aggressor or as victim) leading to puncture wounds or abcesses, discuss the possibility of FIV with your vet.

Caring for an FIV Cat

A cat with FIV needs:

  • A healthy diet.
  • A comfortable, stable and enriched environment either entirely indoors, or in a very protected outdoors situation.
  • Your love and companionship.
  • Regular veterinary check-ups, at least twice a year, with blood and urine analysis
  • Vaccinations (live vaccines are fine).
  • Parasite control – fleas, ticks, worms, mites etc.
  • Immediate response to health issues – small things that would not be a problem for a young healthy cat should be thoroughly explored in any special needs or elderly cat.
Be aware that there is always a possibility that the disease may accelerate and you may have to make hard decisions.  This is true for all chronic conditions such as diabetes and chronic renal failure.  Enjoy the time while your cat is not displaying any symptoms (which could be many, many years) and do what you can to give them the best possible chance of health.

Most catteries will board FIV cats because they already ensure cats do not mingle, and disinfect between residents.  However, be aware that an FIV cat can suddenly decline and die, through no fault of anyone.  If you have a catsitter in your own home instead, you should make sure they understand about FIV and that they should not hesitate to take your cat to the vet even for minor things while you are away.

Adopting an FIV cat

  • Most FIV cats do not display any symptoms at all, and live long, healthy lives.
  • However, they are carriers of the virus and so could potentially infect other cats.
  • The best situation for an FIV cat is to come into a stable home, with no other cats, where it lives mainly or completely indoors, but maybe has access to an outside exercise pen, or walks outside on a harness and lead.  In many ways this is similar to adopting a blind cat, where similar conditions are required for entirely different reasons.
  • If, for example, you live in an apartment or flat without outside access, but are prepared to make your home an interesting living environment for your feline companion, an FIV cat would be a more sensible choice than a cat that has previously been used to free-roaming.  If the cat you adopt is recently diagnosed and was previously free-roaming, it will have to adjust to an indoor lifestyle (which means that you must stay strong and not give in to the pleading to be allowed out that will go on for a while but eventually subside!), but if an owner is motivated to provide a good life for it, with regular veterinary are, vaccinations and so on, then there is no reason that it will not live as long and happy a life as any other cat.
  • If you already have an FIV cat, you could still adopt another FIV cat provided the introduction is done carefully.  Ordinary territorial spats that new housemates use to sort out their relationship are very unlikely to compromise the health of either cat.
  • HOWEVER, this is a virus that slowly attacks the immune system, so you will need to be alert to even minor health issues, and get treatment for them as soon as possible. 
  • If you take on an FIV cat, and you want to take out cat insurance, you may have difficulty in insuring him for conditions resulting from his FIV status.  This varies by insurer, so you will need to look into what different companies offer.
  • The one warning here would be if you are yourself immune-suppressed.  Because an FIV cat may be more liable to secondary infections, some of which could be transferable to humans, having an FIV cat would be a health risk for you.
  • To learn more about what it is like to adopt an FIV cat, click here to read a story from an FIV cat owner, and see one of our rehoming Success Stories to see just how wonderful a pet an FIV cat will be.

Cats Protection FIV Cat Rehoming Policy

  • Whilst FIV is not a very infectious disease, it must be realised that it can spread to other cats.  FIV-positive cats should only be homed to households with no other cats, or with only other FIV-positive cats.
  • The cat will need to be indoors only, unless an outdoor exercise pen is available.
  • For even more information, see the Cats Protection FIV Leaflet.
  • We will of course discuss everything with you should you choose to adopt an FIV cat in our care.