Also known as FIV, the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a disease that affects up to 3% of healthy cats in the United States every year, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. The disease attacks a cat’s immune system and can leave carriers vulnerable to secondary infections.
FIV is primarily transmitted via deep bite wounds and, less commonly, via transmission from a mother cat to her kittens during birth or through infected milk. Similar to the AIDS virus in humans, FIV must replicate inside white blood cells known as T-lymphocytes. The virus then spreads through the lymphatic system and may cause enlarged lymph nodes, fever, and lethargy as it progresses. Since the primary method of transmission is via deep puncture wounds, it is less likely for the virus to be passed amongst cats in households where a stable social structure has been established. In fact, many shelters now house well-socialized FIV positive and negative cats together without fear of transmission.
Should I adopt an FIV+ cat?
Many people are understandably concerned when they first hear that an adoptable cat has tested positive for FIV. They are concerned that other animals in the household may be exposed to the virus or that their newly adopted pet will come with a host of expensive medical needs.
Luckily, FIV+ cats that receive the proper care can live relatively normal lives. It is recommended that you take your FIV+ cat to your veterinarian every six months for routine wellness exams, but typically there are no maintenance medications or treatments that are required. Most vets recommend that FIV+ cats avoid raw diets to avoid the risk of parasitic and food-borne infections. Be sure to keep all cats in the household up to date on vaccinations, and watch your FIV kitty for signs of weight loss, decreased appetite, or lethargy.
The FIV virus can only live outside the body for a few hours in most environments. Additionally, it is only transmissible between cats, meaning other pets and human family members need not worry about contracting the virus.
Although there is currently no cure for FIV, with effective management, cats living with the disease can live relatively normal lives. I highly encourage anyone looking to adopt a cat to check out the FIV kitties at your local shelter, as they are often passed over by adopters. We currently have an FIV+ cat named One-Eyed Jack living here at The Isle. He is as happy and active as any other cat in our rescue, and is currently looking for a forever home. If you think you might be interested in adopting Jack, see this post for more information. If you live in the Tampa Bay area and would like to check out other FIV+ cats available for adoption, check out the adoptable over at Friends of Strays Animal Shelter or Pet Pal Animal Shelter.