Liz loves animals. Seeing them ill, hurt, or killed breaks her heart. She advocates for "adopt, don't shop" and TNR programs for feral cats.
FIV Is Not a Death Sentence
This used to be the case, without pause or question. There was much fear surrounding the initial discovery of this virus, much as with the human HIV (which causes AIDS).
You did not dare keep a cat that tested positive; you certainly did not expose your own cats to the FIV-positive kitty, and the only accepted solution was to kill the infected cat at the hands of a veterinarian: the act "sanitized" by calling it euthanasia.
Sadly, this is still very much the practice to this day, even at some "no kill" shelters, where no healthy animal is put down. The outdated information that abounds, unfortunately, leads them to consider the FIV-positive cats as "unhealthy," and not adoptable.
Nothing is further from the truth, as we shall see.
"Wolfman," a Cute, Little Kitten
Myths Explode on Exposure to Truth
In the first place, FIV is not the killer of cats that it was once thought to be.
- The virus itself is quite fragile, and can only live outside the body for a few seconds to a couple of hours, depending on conditions.
- It is not transmissible through the air, by coughs or sneezes, etc.
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a very, very slow-growing virus; most cats will die of old age before the virus reaches a point of being lethal.
- It is very rare for a mother cat to pass the disease on to her kittens
- If your cats do not fight with each other, they can live in perfect safety with an FIV-positive kitty.
- This is strictly a cat strain; neither humans, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, or other pets can become infected.
- The "F" in FIV stands for "Feline." (feline=cat)
My Cat Tested Positive! Now What Should I Do?
The first thing to do is actually a thing not to do, and that is panic. Panic won't help, and it is not warranted. You should know these things before you rush to a decision you may well deeply regret:
- The current tests used (ELISA being the most common) are subject to false positives in over 20% of cases—even higher with kittens.
- The test does not detect the actual virus; only the antibodies against it.
- Kittens may show false positives because of antibodies gained from the mother cat through nursing (if the mother cat had an actual active FIV virus )
This last point is double the tragedy, because so many healthy kittens have been put down just because they showed a positive test. Yes, they may have had the virus, but it's far more likely that they were tested too young, and were still showing mom's antibodies.
For this reason, kittens should not be tested for FIV prior to about 6-8 months of age. Waiting gives their systems time to shed the inherited antibodies.
In Memoriam: RIP, Sweet Baby
A Needless Loss of a Life
The kitten in the two photos above was being fostered for adoption.
He and his sister were the two shyest, and they had been brought out of their shells and were all ready for adoption when the tragedy of a positive FIV test struck.
I and several others are fighting for a change in the policy of rescue groups nationwide, as well as that of many veterinarians, to stop this unnecessary killing of beautiful, young kittens.
The little fellow pictured above was just a little over two-months-old.
What Do You Think?
How Is FIV Transmitted?
The most common way for FIV to be transmitted is via deep bite wounds. Those are extremely rare, if not unheard of altogether in household cats. Instead, FIV transmission occurs mostly in unaltered feral populations where territorial and mating disputes happen.
The Cat Can Live a Normal, Happy Life
FIV-positive cats can, and do, live long and otherwise healthy, happy lives. Putting them down is the ultimate tragedy. It is so uncalled for.
From what we have learned so far, we see that the virus acts slowly, so that kitties testing positive will, in the vast majority of cases, live long enough to die from old age, and complications of aging well before the virus has a chance to do them in.
The false positive problem is so prevalent that it makes the entire testing program essentially bogus in the event of a false positive. Not to mention, such an event causes stress to the people fostering kittens, or the owners of a cat that tests positive.
It Sounds Counter-Intuitive, But . . .
Why? The vaccines themselves can cause a disruption in the immune system, acting as they do, to trigger the immune system to make antibodies to those other diseases. Instead, because the immune system is weak, kitty could come down with symptoms of the disease supposed to be prevented by the vaccine and cause the FIV to accelerate to the detriment of the cat from secondary infections. Also, though there is now an FIV vaccine, most veterinarians do not recommend it because it has been linked to vaccine-linked sarcoma (a type of cancer), at the injection site.
This is discussed in the video below.
A Veterinarian Discusses FIV
Care and Feeding of FIV-Positive Cats
To be sure, FIV-positive cats should be given some extra care, but this is no harder than what you'd normally expect to do for them. Please, whatever you do, be sure they stay indoors only.
Take them for their annual or semi-annual veterinary check-ups, and they can live a normal, healthy, and full life.
Keep the household running as normal, and feel free to play with kitty as you would any other cat. You don't need to act as if you have a deathly ill animal that may pass away at any moment. They aren't going to break if they run and chase toys. Enjoy them, and be grateful for their furry presence, and pat yourself on the back that you gave them the chance to live as they were meant to.
Looking for More Resources?
You can save a life by adopting one or more of these kitties. Call local shelters for information, particularly those that rescue FIV-positive cats.
Provide educational materials for your own local rescues or shelters if they are still stuck in the "dark ages" and needlessly killing these cats.
With a little help, we can make this unsavory practice a thing of the past.
- What Is FIV? (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from http://www.fivcatrescue.org/fiv-what-is-fiv.html
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/Health_Information/brochure_fiv.cfm
- Cat FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from http://pets.webmd.com/cats/cat-fiv-feline-immunodeficiency-virus
- Dr. Becker Discusses Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UW06wBpiaWI
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2017 Liz Elias
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on July 29, 2017:
@ Linda--I am delighted that you found the information useful--you are correct--owners AND rescue groups need to be better educated on this matter! Thanks so much for your comment. Please let as many others know as you can.
@ Alicia--I'm pleased to have been able to offer useful information, and I hope you will help spread the word. Thank you for stopping by.
@ Blond Logic--FIV is rather on the forefront of tests that are performed on kittens; most especially by rescue and re-homing groups. It is so unnecessary, and so painful for the fosters to find that the kittens to whom they were giving love and care will be put down. And that is truly criminal, IMO; the disease really isn't 'all that,' as the saying goes.
@ jameshmundyiv--Thank you very much for your support and concurrence. Please help spread the word!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 26, 2017:
Thank you very much for sharing this information and the video, Liz. The facts are so important for cat owners and cat lovers to know.
Mary Wickison from Brazil on July 25, 2017:
I had never heard of FVI before reading your article. It was very informative and now I have a clearer understanding. Hopefully, a more accurate test will be found and the public will have a better understanding of the disease.
jameshmundyiv on July 25, 2017: