Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Don’t Be Afraid to Adopt an FIV-Positive Cat

DCIN thanks JaneA Kelley--its friend, a diabetic cat caregiver (Hi Bella!), and author at Paws and Effect and Catster--for this concise and informative article about the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

On occasion, shelters, rescues, and individuals try to place diabetic cats that also are FIV-positive. Hopefully this article will help you to start thinking about why adopting an FIV-positive cat is not a reason to avoid the adoption. ~Venita

Don’t Be Afraid to Adopt an FIV-Positive Cat
By JaneA Kelley

The disease is not a death sentence, and with good care, FIV-positive cats can live long, healthy lives.

Boo in VA is an OTJ diabetic that is FIV-positive
and from what we hear the sweetest boy ever!
See his blog page here.
The cat world is rife with rumors and misinformation about the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Some of these rumors are even spread by veterinary professionals and shelter staff. This old thinking has left many wonderful cats to languish in shelters – and even to be euthanized. But FIV is not an easily transmitted disease and FIV-positive cats can and do live with FIV-negative cats. Here are the facts about the virus.

The Basics

The feline immunodeficiency virus is a retrovirus like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Like HIV, FIV kills infection-fighting T-cells and weakens the immune system. This causes FIV-positive cats to be more likely to develop illnesses like respiratory infections, and dental disease and abscesses. However, an infected cat can live a good, long and healthy life with proper care and treatment.

FIV isn’t Spread Through Casual Contact

Cats get infected with FIV through deep bite wounds, which is why un-neutered male cats are most likely to contract the virus while fighting for mating or territorial rights. Snuggling, mutual grooming, sharing food bowls, and even sneezing won’t spread the virus between cats.

According to the Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine, “Casual, non-aggressive contact does not appear to be an efficient route of spreading FIV; as a result, cats in households with stable social structures where housemates do not fight are at little risk for acquiring FIV infections.”

Kittens of Infected Mothers may Test Positive Initially

When an FIV-positive mother cat gives birth, the young ones do inherit the antibodies (the cells that fight off the disease) but usually not the virus itself. Because the standard snap test looks for antibodies to the virus, the kittens may test positive even though they aren’t infected. Any young kittens that test positive for FIV should be retested when they’re over 6 months old.

The FIV Vaccine may do More Harm than Good

Cheesedoodle is FIV-positive and insulin
dependent. He was fostered and adopted by
a DCIN case manager with a large number of cats.
Any cat that receives the FIV vaccine will test positive for FIV antibodies. The “snap test” performed at shelters and vets’ offices and the more complex PCR test can’t currently distinguish between antibodies produced by the vaccine and antibodies produced by the virus. This is one reason why the American Association of Feline Practitioners considers the FIV vaccine non-core and states that it should only be administered to the highest-risk cats.

Any cats vaccinated against FIV should be permanently identified with a microchip, tattoo, or collar tag because cats that test positive for the disease are often put to death immediately if they find themselves in shelters.

FIV Should not be a Death Sentence

Although FIV is a progressive disease and there is currently no cure, illnesses that result from an FIV-positive cat’s compromised immune system can be treated symptomatically. With regular veterinary care and a high-quality diet, FIV-positive cats can live just as long as their FIV-negative peers.

Although FIV-positive cats are typically isolated from FIV-negative cats in shelter environments, FIV-positive cats can live quite happily with uninfected cats. There is little to no risk of transmission as long as the cats are properly introduced and don’t fight with other cats.

What it all comes down to is, there’s no need to fear FIV. If you adopt an FIV-positive cat, you will have to take extra care in introducing that cat to your current residents and you will need to be vigilant about veterinary care and preventive procedures like dental cleanings. Other than that, though, an FIV-positive cat is no different from any other cat, and they’d love to be able to enjoy a forever home too.


1. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine fact sheet on FIV: www.vet.cornell.edu/FHC/health_resources/brochure_fiv.cfm
2. Sheltermedicine.org information sheet on FIV: http://www.sheltermedicine.com/node/42
3. American Association of Feline Practitioners fact sheet on FIV: http://www.catvets.com/cat-owners/disease-and-conditions/fiv
4. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2013), American Association of Feline Practitioners 2013 Vaccination Guidelines (http://jfm.sagepub.com/content/15/9/785.full.pdf+html) and supplemental fact sheet on FIV documenting the risk of vaccination against the disease (http://jfm.sagepub.com/content/suppl/2013/08/14/15.9.785.DC1/6_Fact_sheet_6.pdf)

Later References

1. Winn Feline Foundation, Adopting FIV Positive Cats, Ocober 21, 2014. Citing results from Litster A.  Transmission of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) among cohabiting cats in two cat rescue shelters. The Veterinary Journal 2014;201:184-8.

1 comment:

Venita said...

The Korett Shelter Medicine Program at the UC Davis Veterinary School has posted this information sheet on FIV. Although it is not dated, the information sheet was posted July 9, 2010. http://www.sheltermedicine.com/node/42.