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Everything You Need to Know About FIV Positive Cats

The Virginia Beach SPCA is pleased to announce that we are now adopting out FIV positive cats. While FIV is certainly a serious disease, a little extra TLC can provide these cats with a long, happy life. We’re excited for this new opportunity to help more animals find forever homes!

What is FIV?
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a lentivirus, like HIV, that affects cats around the world. Dr. Woyma, Virginia Beach SPCA’s Medical Director, explains that the virus attacks and compromises a cat’s immune system, making FIV positive cats more susceptible to infection. FIV is often confused with Feline Leukemia Virus (FelV). While Feline Leukemia can also cause immunosuppression, Feline Leukemia also leads to the development of cancers, anemia, kidney disease, with a much worse prognosis than FIV.

FIV is only contagious among cats and difficult to transmit. It is also slow-acting, so cats generally do not show any symptoms until years after being infected. The amount of time it takes for the virus to make a cat become immune compromised can vary, but once symptomatic, FIV positive cats are more vulnerable to contracting other diseases. However, with the proper care, FIV positive cats can live healthy, happy lives.

Diagnosing FIV
Since there are no obvious signs of FIV, a blood test is used to determine if a cat is FIV positive. Infected mother cats can transmit FIV antibodies to nursing kittens, which can cause kittens to test positive for a few months after birth. However, most of these kittens aren’t truly infected. The Virginia Beach SPCA recommends retesting kittens every 60 days until at least 6 months old to be sure about their FIV status. An adult cat can test positive as early as two to four weeks after exposure, but Best Friends Society reports that it can take up to eight weeks in some cases. According to the ASPCA, once a cat is determined to be FIV-positive, that cat is capable of transmitting the virus to other cats.

Transmitting FIV
First and foremost, only cats can contract FIV.  The virus is primarily transmitted through bite wounds, and it can also be spread through blood. Although any feline is susceptible, un-neutered, outdoor males have the highest risk of being infected because of their propensity to fight. FIV is not usually transmitted through mating. Dr. Woyma explains, “Unlike HIV, it [FIV] is not typically spread through sexual contact and also very rarely transmitted from a mother cat to her kittens.” FIV is also rarely transmitted through casual contact, like sharing food bowls and litter boxes, social grooming, and sneezing. The unlikelihood of transmission, however, does not mean transmission isn’t possible and pet owners should always err on the side of caution.

Preventing FIV
As a responsible pet owner, it is always important to prevent exposure to FIV. The best way to prevent your cat from contracting the virus is to keep your cat indoors and never let your cat roam free outside. Indoor cats have the lowest risk of contracting the virus. In addition, if your cat is going to be spending any time around other felines, make sure all cats have tested negative for FIV. The Virginia Beach SPCA tests every cat for FIV and recommends to know the FIV status of any recently adopted cat prior to entering your home.

Please take note that although a FIV vaccine exists, the Virginia Beach SPCA and the overwhelming majority of veterinarians do not recommend it.  In fact, the Virginia Beach SPCA does not carry the FIV vaccine at all. The vaccine has been proven to be ineffective. Additionally, your cat will always test positive after the vaccine is administered despite the vaccine’s inability to protect your cat from the virus. No test can differentiate whether a positive result is from the vaccine or from the virus, and the Best Friends Society cautions that in some areas, if a cat escapes and is picked up by local animal control, the cat may be euthanized if positive for FIV.

Caring for an FIV positive cat
As aforementioned above, it is extremely important to keep an FIV positive cat indoors. This not only decreases their exposure to secondary diseases, it also prevents them from spreading the disease to the rest of the feline population. Having your cat spayed or neutered is another important consideration in preventing the spread of disease, since altered animals are less likely to fight.

It’s also very important to feed your cat an appropriate, well balanced diet. For example, raw diets are becoming a very “trendy” thing to do for your pets- however these have the potential to contain bacterial, parasitic, or other forms of disease to which an FIV positive cat would be susceptible. Dr. Woyma also recommends that FIV positive cats have a wellness visit with their veterinarian every six months, and they should also have wellness bloodwork done routinely to monitor for any changes or early signs of disease. It is  important for pet owners to monitor their FIV positive cat very closely for any signs of disease and get any signs or symptoms addressed as soon as possible.

There is no direct treatment for FIV. Therefore, focus is on extending the asymptomatic period and easing the secondary effects of the virus.The average lifespan for an FIV positive cat is lower than average, however FIV positive cats can still live a great life! The ASPCA agrees that infected cats receiving supportive medical care and kept in a stress-free, indoor environment can live relatively comfortable lives for months to years before the disease reaches a chronic stage. Cats with FIV can have a great quality of life for a very long time.

Interested in adopting a FIV positive cat?
Someone who wants to adopt an FIV positive cat from the Virginia Beach SPCA will receive special counseling to make sure they are well informed about the care that FIV positive cats need as well as the potential complications for their cat. As with any of our cat adoptions, we do require that the cat be kept strictly indoors. In addition, we will not adopt an FIV positive to into a home with any cats that are negative for FIV. Of course, we are happy to adopt out a pair of FIV positive cats or kittens together if someone is looking to add two feline family members!