Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is commonly known as Feline AIDS because of its similarities to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). FIV is relatively uncommon, but it can have serious impacts on a cat’s health and well-being.
With proper care, cats with FIV can live many years and usually can share a household with other, FIV-negative cats. Medications and good nutrition can help greatly increase the lifespan of a cat with this disease.
“FIV is not a virus that is easily contracted by contact in normal household settings, such as from grooming, eating from the same food bowl or contact with other secretions from the nose, mouth, or urine of infected cats,” said Debra Zoran, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
FIV does not survive well outside the body; it is mostly transmitted through bite wounds and blood transfusions, or is passed to kittens during birth. It is also spread through breeding, so cats that are spayed or neutered have a much lower chance of contracting the disease.
“A cat with FIV that is neutered and not prone to fighting can live with another cat in a household and the virus will not affect the other cat,” Zoran said.
She highly recommends that cats with FIV become indoor-only cats, both for their own safety and to reduce the risk of transmission to other cats.
She said that if a cat becomes infected with FIV, the disease will go through three stages.
The first stage is characterized by a lack of symptoms.
“After the virus gets into the body, it enters the body’s T lymphocytes and lives in them without causing problems — often for years,” Zoran said. “Some infected cats that have poor immune function can get signs of illness in months, but most cats carry the virus for months to years before the virus transitions into the active stage.”
During the active stage, which can also last for years, cats are more prone to illnesses because the virus interferes with the immune system. They may have frequent respiratory, skin, or urinary tract infections, but veterinary care can allow these cats to recover completely.
“Cats with this stage of the disease do best if they live inside because they are exposed to fewer things to cause illness,” Zoran said.
During the third stage of FIV, called the AIDS stage, cats typically develop chronic illnesses or cancers.
As of now, there is no cure, but cats with FIV can have a good quality of life if they live indoors and have good veterinary care.