What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus?

At The Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSA), we regularly take in cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and care for them until they find their forever homes. The truth is, most people don’t know very much (or anything at all) about FIV, so potential adopters often pass over cats with this virus. We definitely understand that adopting a pet with unique needs can be daunting if you’re not familiar with the facts. That’s why we’ve put together this post, so that you can learn the what’s what of FIV!

So, what is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus?

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a lentivirus that is found in cats worldwide. Lentivirus is a genus of slow viruses with a long incubation period. Did you know that the most well-known lentivirus is Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV? These two viruses are similar in their effect on the body. However, they are not transmittable between species. Having a long incubation period means that cats with FIV can be asymptomatic for months, or even years. Just like HIV, FIV causes immune system suppression. Unfortunately, this means that cats with FIV have an increased risk of infections, inflammatory diseases, and cancer. Once symptoms do appear, they can include recurring minor illnesses, enlarged lymph nodes, fever, and more.

How does a cat get Feline Immunodeficiency Virus?

FIV is generally transmitted from cat to cat by bite wound. It can also be transmitted through mating, pregnancy, and nursing. Unlike Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), FIV is not transmitted by casual, non-aggressive contact. Unaltered male tom cats and their territorial fighting keep this virus present in the feral cat population.

Your vet will diagnose FIV from a combination of history, risk factors, clinical signs, and tests. There is no treatment for FIV. However, it is a manageable condition, and cats can live normal lives despite a positive diagnosis. Just like cats without the virus, cats with FIV should get regular physical exams, stay current on vaccinations, and get proper nutrition in order to maintain optimum health and reduce risk of infection.

What can I do as a cat owner?

Owners of FIV positive cats must make sure their cats stay indoors at all times to prevent the spread of this disease to other cats and to prevent exposure to harmful viruses and diseases for their immunocompromised cat.

Cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus make wonderful pets, and can live happy, full lives. There is no reason to feel fear or intimidation when deciding to adopt a cat with this diagnosis. We hope that we’ve helped clear up some of the confusion surrounding FIV. Share this graphic

Have you ever heard of FIV? Have you ever adopted an FIV positive cat? Let us know in the comments below. Also, check out What is Feline Leukemia Virus and 7 Myths About FeLV for more information on cats with unique needs.

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