Posted by: secondchancehumanesociety | March 19, 2008

FIV and Cats

Griffin - Research Assistant

Griffin - Research Assistant

Dear Pet Column,

My cat was just diagnosed with FIV, do I need to euthanize her?

This is a tough question and I would like to start by explaining further about the Feline immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), which is a virus often confused with feline leukemia virus (FeLV), although in the same retrovirus family, the two viruses differ in many ways. FeLV will be the focus of a future column. The following information is based upon a report by the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

FIV-infected cats are found worldwide, but the prevalence of infection varies greatly.  In the US, approximately 1.5 to 3 percent of healthy cats are infected with FIV.   Because biting is the most efficient means of viral transmission, free-roaming, aggressive male cats are the most frequently infected, while cats housed exclusively indoors are much less likely to be infected.

Since the primary mode of transmission is through bite wounds, casual, non-aggressive contact is not a route of spreading FIV; as a result, cats in households with stable social structures where housemates do not fight are at little risk for acquiring FIV infections.  On rare occasions infection is transmitted from an infected mother cat to her kittens, usually during passage through the birth canal or when the newborn kittens ingest infected milk.  Thus is it recommended to spay/neuter all FIV positive cats. Sexual contact is not a major means of spreading FIV.

FIV is diagnosed through antibody tests that detect the presence of antibody in the blood of infected cats. Positive and negative results can be convoluted:

Positive Test-

<!  Because few, if any, cats ever eliminate infection, the presence of antibody indicates that a cat is infected with FIV.  Since false-positive results may occur, vets recommend that positive results be confirmed using a test with a different format.

<!  Infected mother cats transfer FIV antibodies to nursing kittens, so kittens born to infected mothers may receive positive test results for several months after birth.  However, few of these kittens actually are or will become infected.  To clarify their infection status, kittens younger that six months of age receiving positive results should be retested at 60-day intervals until they are at least six months old.

Negative Test-

<!  A negative test result indicates that antibodies directed against FIV have not been detected, and, in most cases, this implies that the cat is not infected.  Nevertheless, it takes 8 to 12 weeks after infection (and sometimes even longer) before detectable levels of antibody appear, so if the test is performed during this interval, inaccurate results might be obtained.  Therefore, antibody-negative cats with either an unknown or a known exposure to FIV-infected cats, should be retested a minimum of 60 days after their most recent exposure in order to allow adequate time for development of antibodies.

<!  On very rare occasions, cats in the later stages of FIV infection may test negative because their immune systems are so compromised that they no longer produce detectable levels of antibody.

The challenge when you determine that your cat definitively has FIV is discovering the best course of action and is dependent upon many variables. If the cat is strictly an outdoor cat the risk of it infecting other cats directs one toward euthanizing the cat. However, if the cat can be maintained as an indoor cat in a home without other cats it can live a happy and healthy life for many years. Other factors of consideration are whether the infected cat can be kept from fighting with other household cats, minimizing risk to non-FIV household cats. Vaccines to help protect against FIV infection are now available, although it does not protect all vaccinated cats and may have an impact on future FIV test results.  It is important that you discuss the advantages and disadvantages of vaccination with your vet.

 As stated earlier, infected cats may live normal lives for years.  However, infection eventually leads to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat’s ability to protect itself against other infections.  Care for the FIV positive cat includes nutritionally complete and balanced diets and wellness visits with your vet at least every six months.

SCHS staff thanks Griffin for his help in composing this week’s column. Griffin is a healthy, handsome, and very mellow orphaned cat waiting here at the shelter for his forever home. Call the Second Chance Helpline at 626-2273 or visit to learn more.



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