Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Ginger and white cat sat in kitchen with cat bowl © RSPCA

FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus) is a viral infection that affects cats. It causes affected animals to have a weaker immune system in comparison to non-FIV positive cats.

FIV initially results in a short-lived illness which is often not noticed by a cat’s owner. Cats then enter a stage of progressive immune system decline but many remain without symptoms of the disease for many years. In fact, research indicates that FIV cats may have a similar life expectancy to uninfected cats.

Whilst these cats may be prone to a variety of common diseases, there are no symptoms that are specific for FIV cats. An FIV positive cat may be more prone to chronic respiratory infections, skin problems, mouth inflammation and certain types of tumours but there is no definitive rule.

How do cats catch FIV?

FIV is spread through direct contract, therefore it’s very important that FIV cats are kept indoors.

FIV is most commonly seen in unneutered male cats who have been involved in fighting for territory. It’s spread by biting and body fluids and does not spread in the environment. Some kittens can be passed the infection from their mum, but many can clear it before they’re six months old.

This disease is one of the main reasons why we strongly recommend all cats are neutered at four months of age, as neutering can reduce a male cats urge to mate, roam and fight.

Can humans catch FIV?

While FIV is related to HIV in humans, there’s no way that the cat virus can cross between species and infect people. FIV only affects cats, cannot be transmitted to non-felines.

Can FIV be cured?

Although there is no cure for FIV, some cats are able to live long and happy lives and can make wonderful pets. A vaccine exists to prevent FIV infection in America, but its use is controversial and it’s not available in the UK.

Can positive cats be kept with other pets?

Although FIV isn’t easily transmitted between cats (only through deep bites and not via sharing food and other normal interaction), the risk means that a FIV positive cat should be adopted into a single cat household only. As FIV can’t be transmitted to humans or other non-feline animals, an FIV positive cat is able to share his or her environment with a dog or other pet, as long as there are no other cats.

What should you feed a FIV cat?

FIV cats should receive a good quality, balanced diet. They shouldn’t be given any raw food or dairy products, as the risk of contracting foodborne bacterial and parasitic disease is greater in immunosuppressed individuals.

Will I be able to insure my FIV cat?

Pet insurance companies should be informed if your cat is infected with FIV - just as with any other pre-existing conditions. Each insurer offers different terms and conditions but many do not provide payouts for pre-existing conditions or illnesses. Be sure to fully discuss FIV with any potential insurers.

Veterinary and health needs for FIV positive cats

Contact your vet promptly if you have any concerns that your cat has caught an infection, or shows any other signs of ill health. Visit your vet for an annual check-up and keep up to date with vaccinations. Make sure that you provide regular preventative healthcare, such as anti-parasite treatments, as recommended by your vet.

Rehoming a cat with FIV

Ginger cat sitting on a sofa © RSPCA

FIV cats can enjoy a happy life and can make wonderful companions. However, we’ll only rehome FIV cats whom we believe can be happy as indoor-only cats.  

To prevent the disease from spreading, the FIV cat must be the only cat in the household, so if you would like to have a one cat home, a FIV cat might suit you.

Adopting a FIV positive cat can be really rewarding. Although no-one can predict the future, many FIV cats can potentially live long, healthy and full lives, just like a non-infected cat, and have all the usual needs such as a nutritious diet, mental stimulation and plenty of love!

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