What is FIV? 

FIV or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is  a much-misunderstood virus believed to effect 2.5-4.4% of cats globally. In the past, cats that have tested positive for FIV have been euthanised, but the more we learn about this condition the more apparent it has become that FIV cats can live happy and comfortable lives.

Is FIV fatal?

No - by itself, FIV is not a life threatening disease. The virus has a very slow effect on a cats' immune system, potentially weakening it over several years, and sometimes making that cat more vulnerable to secondary infections in the long-term. Every cats' immune response is different however, and  the right environment is the key to maintaining good health in an FIV cat; a balanced diet and a happy and suitable home. Many FIV positive cats live into their senior years.

Is FIV very contagious?

No. FIV is actually very difficult to pass on, being spread mainly through deep bites. This is why it is most common among unneutered Tom cats, particularly strays, who are prone to serious fights over territory. Neutering greatly reduces the chances of transmission, and FIV positive cats who are happy to co-exist with other felines pose a minimal risk, with many people keeping both FIV positive and negative cats in the same household to no issues.

Can humans catch FIV?

Absolutely not! FIV is a species-specific virus that can be transmitted to felines only, and even this is difficult.

Do FIV cats need special care?

FIV cats do not need daily medication or any special care as such. Their owners simply need to do their utmost to maintain good health in their FIV cats, with a high quality, balanced diet, a stress-free enviorment, regular vet checks and regular worming and flea treatments.

 It has been suggested that raw or uncooked meats should not be fed to FIV positive cats due to the potential presence of harmful bacteria, and that hunting should be discouraged. A vet who is up to date on the most current FIV research is also very important.

Do FIV Positive cats need to be kept indoors?

Many charities recommend keeping FIV positive cats indoors to avoid the virus being transmitted to neighbouring cats or strays in the area. However, as FIV is very difficult to pass on, providing the cat in question is neutered, the risk may be minimal. At CatCuddles, we feel this is something that needs to be considered based on each individual FIV cat's situation, personality and needs; does the cat continue to be defensive towards other cats after being neutered? Is the cat very active and will he or she be frustrated if kept indoors? These are all questions that need to be asked in the making of this decision.

There is also some debate about whether keeping FIV cats indoors-only reduces risks to their health from secondary infections, with many major organisations taking this stance, but others, such as the FIV Cat Project, deeming it unnecessary, and outdoor access as potentially stress-reducing - important for the health of FIV cats.

Installing cat-proofing in your garden may provide a perfect solution to these issues.

Why is FIV so misunderstood?

One major reason for misunderstandings about FIV may be the experiences of veterinary and animal care professionals with stray FIV Positive cats. Living on the streets can take a big toll on any cats health, as they suffer from a poor diet, hunger, the cold, and often frequent untreated wounds caused by fighting with other cats. For an FIV cat, then, who's immune system is, as explained, a little more vulnerable than most, years spent homeless can take a more dramatic toll, causing a decline in health that would not be seen in an FIV cat living protected in a home. Encountering only unwell FIV positive cats, and never meeting the many happy and healthy FIV cats living in homes worldwide, may have painted an incorrect picture for vets and animal care professionals - that all of these felines are sickly.

In reality, no-kill charities have been successful in restoring even ex-stray FIV positive cats to health; these special cats simply need a good diet and quality of life, and to be shielded a little more than most  from any potential risks to their health. Environment, rather than the virus itself, is what is most significant here.

Another reason for misunderstandings about FIV may be the stigma around Aids or HIV, and FIV's reputation as 'feline aids', or outdated scientific studies which are still relied upon by some vets.

Further reading

1000 FIV Cat Project - a comprehensive study of FIV cats worldwide and a well of information for FIV cat owners.

Information about FIV on CatChat

The FIV Owners Club - a forum for owners of FIV positive cats.

The Celia Hammond Animal Trust's stance on FIV