Cat FIV: what you need to know

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a viral infection of cats that occurs worldwide.

The virus only affects cats, so there’s no risk of infection for people or other species in contact with FIV positive cats.

An FIV-positive cat will remain infected with the virus for life. After a period that may last several years, the virus may damage the cat’s immune response and lead to signs of disease. Infected cats who receive supportive medical care, a good diet and are kept in a stress-free environment can live comfortable lives with a normal lifespan.

How is FIV passed on?

Once a cat has contracted FIV it is capable of transmitting the disease to other cats. FIV is mainly passed from cat to cat through bite wounds during fights or through mating. Another, less common mode of transmission is from an FIV-infected mother cat to her kittens.

What are the signs of FIV?

  • Initial, or first-stage, symptoms include loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, diarrhoea, swollen lymph nodes and low white blood cell count. Cats infected with FIV start to become listless, don’t groom themselves properly and are prone to other infections
  • Second-stage cats may recover and show no symptoms, yet become lifelong carriers
  • Third-stage cats experience changes in appetite, toileting changes, weight loss, smelly, sore mouths, drooling, poor coat through lack of grooming and secondary infections, which become more frequent and resistant to treatment.

How is it diagnosed?

Your vet can diagnose whether your cat has the FIV infection using a blood test.

How to care for a cat with FIV

FIV treatment focuses mainly on extending the symptom-free period or, if symptoms have set in, on easing the secondary effects and infections of the virus.

  • Assess your cats outdoor environment. If you are in a rural location with no other cats in a 5 mile radius, then continue to allow your cat full access outside. In a high cat populated area, keep your cat indoors, with appropriate enrichment and ideally with access to an enclosed garden or outside run. This will protect them from catching diseases from other cats as they have a lower immunity. By restricting your cats access to roam, you’re also protecting the uninfected cats in your community.
  • Monitor your cat’s health and behaviour. Cats especially are very good at hiding signs of ill health. Speak to your vet about any concerns you have
  • It’s not known if blood sucking parasites such as fleas can spread infection so it’s wise to maintain a regular flea control programme
  • Take your cat to your vet at least twice a year for a checkup.

Things to remember when living with an FIV cat

  • Your windows will usually need to be kept shut or have protective mesh over them
  • Your cat will need a stimulating environment with plenty of activities to maintain a happy life indoors
  • Your cat will need regular vet checks more often than a cat that has not been infected with FIV, so you’ll have higher vet costs
  • You need to ensure your cat is kept away from other cats that don’t have FIV
  • FIV cats have a compromised immunity, so any wounds or ill health will need urgent veterinary treatment.

If you’re thinking of adopting a cat with FIV

Make sure you review the clinical history of your new cat and ask for more details on how his particular case of FIV has been treated.  You’ll need to sign a disclaimer to confirm you’ve been made aware of the condition. Any cat who’s had treatment is likely to have pet insurance exclusions, so it’s worth discussing potential ongoing costs with your vet.

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