Feline Immunodeficiency virus or fiv in kittens

FIV In Cats & Kittens

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a retrovirus specific to cats that affects feline's immune system and leaves cats succeptible to disease, cancers and infections. It is in the same family as Feline Leukemia .

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Hi Simba, My 6-year-old male cat has been diagnosed with FIV.
He is doing fine otherwise. Can you explain the disease and are there any health concerns to my kids or my dog? Thanks Allison

Dear Allison,
As the name implies, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a retrovirus that adversely affects feline's immune system and leaves kitties more succeptible to disease, cancers and infections. It is in the same family as Feline Leukemia. Note that retroviruses are species-specific, meaning that a feline retrovirus like FIV will infect cats only.
There is no evidence available that cats can transmit FIV to any other species. Also, the retrovirus is fragile and can be easily killed or inactivated by ultraviolet light, heat, detergents and drying.

Unlike Feline Leukemia, FIV is not transmitted simply through close contact. FIV is instead shed in the saliva and is transmitted when a cat bites another cat or through another exchange of bodily fluids. Naturally, outdoor or free-roaming cats are much more susceptible to infection! Because there is no FIV vaccine available, the best way to keep a cat from getting FIV is to keep him indoors and away from infected cats.

What does FIV do?

  • Four to six weeks after infection cats may experience fevers, swollen lymph nodes and may have a greater susceptibility to skin or intestinal infections.

  • Cats in the second stage show no signs of disease, all this while the immune system is slowly be destroyed. This stage can last for many years. It is only when the immunodeficiency becomes severe, that the third stage of infection begins.

  • In the third stage, kitty's immune system stops functioning properly, since FIV kills essential cells. This makes cats more susceptible to bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections that kitty would otherwise fight off without problem. Examples of this include mange and ear mites. Other problems include upper respiratory tract infections, oral infections/sores, intestinal infections, and skin/ear diseases as well as cancers, anemia, cow pox infection, renal disease, uveitis and other eye diseases, neurological disorders and neoplasia. Cats in the third stage have a life expectancy of 1 year or less.

How do you treat an FIV-infected kitty?

  • Avoid stressing kitty.

  • Provide kitty with love and care, give him plenty of fluids and good nutrition.

  • Keep an infected kitty indoors so as to protect them, as well as to protect other cats.

  • Keep infected kitties segregated from other cats in the house

  • Have your vet treat the symptoms of whatever diseases, infections or other health problems develop as a result of the disease.

When should you test for FIV?

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the Academy of Feline Medicine have developed guidelines for FIV testing. Basically, you should test your cat if:
  • You are bringing in a cat or kitten to a household with other cats, and you do not know if he has been previously tested.

  • Kitty is showing recurring illness and an inability to fight off disease.

  • Cats in the final stage of FIV disease may test negative for FIV because their immune systems have been destroyed such that they cannot produce FIV antibodies.

  • Your cat is an outdoor cat, escapes, is bitten by another cat or is exposed to cats whose status you cannot determine.

  • Test outdoor cats at least once a year.

  • Cats over 6 months of age who test negative but are suspected of having been infected should be retested 120 days after exposure.
I hope this has been helpful. Remember that FIV-infected cats, unlike FeLV-infected cats can live for many years before they develop symptoms. I hope your kitty is ok and that you and your family continue to enjoy and love him. Simba


Hi Simba,
My 7-year-old male cat has been diagnosed with FIV. He was a stray we have had now for about 3 years. He roams in and outside as he pleases. We also have 4 other cats. They are all de-clawed and do not go outside. What are the risks of this and how do we protect the other 4 cats? Wanda

Dear Wanda,
The first thing you might want to do is have your kitty re-tested. FIV is tricky, in that many times tests for it show false positives.

Because FIV is transmitted through cat to cat exchanges of bodily fluids, you should keep your indoor cats away from the FIV kitty. This is especially important given that there are no vaccines for FIV.

Your indoor/outdoor can live for a couple of years, even if he re-test positive, so do not rush off and have him put to sleep. Continue to care for him and love him as you do. You might also want to consider limiting his roaming area so as to keep him from infecting other cats. Keep me posted. Simba

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