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FIV-Positive Cats: Can You Let Them Live?

Updated on November 10, 2017
DzyMsLizzy profile image

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 The outdated information that abounds, unfortunately, leads them to consider the FIV-positive cats as "unhealthy," and not adoptable.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

Should its life be cut short because of old myths?  This kitten was named "Wolfman" because of his fluffy coat.  He was one of my early fosters, who was healthy, (and luckily) FIV negative, and he found a wonderful forever home.
Should its life be cut short because of old myths? This kitten was named "Wolfman" because of his fluffy coat. He was one of my early fosters, who was healthy, (and luckily) FIV negative, and he found a wonderful forever home. | Source

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.
  • About that "F" in FIV: F=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

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Adorable kitten-- relaxed with his little mouse toy--a beautiful, sweet little kitten being fostered prior to adoption. He was put down for testing positive on the day he was to have his neuter surgery.Up close and personal. Look at those bright, beautiful, soulful eyes!
Adorable kitten-- relaxed with his little mouse toy--a beautiful, sweet little kitten being fostered prior to adoption. He was put down for testing positive on the day he was to have his neuter surgery.
Adorable kitten-- relaxed with his little mouse toy--a beautiful, sweet little kitten being fostered prior to adoption. He was put down for testing positive on the day he was to have his neuter surgery.
Up close and personal. Look at those bright, beautiful, soulful eyes!
Up close and personal. Look at those bright, beautiful, soulful eyes! | Source

A Needless Loss of a Life

The kitten in the two photos just above was being fostered for adoption.

He and his sister were the two shiest, and they had been brought out of their shells and were all ready for adoption when the tragedy of a positive FIV test struck.

As of this writing, (7-24-17) 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 2 months old.

What Do You Think?

Would You Adopt An FIV Positive Cat?

See results

But, 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.

FIV-POSITIVE CATS SHOULD NEVER, EVER,

BE VACCINATED AGAINST ANYTHING. EVER.

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 at the injection site—a type of cancer.

This is discussed in the video just 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" of needless killing of these cats.

With a little help, we can make this unsavory practice a thing of the past.

Thank you.

Sources

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

© 2017 Liz Elias

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  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 3 months ago from Oakley, CA

    @ 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!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

    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.

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 3 months ago from Brazil

    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.

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    jameshmundyiv 3 months ago

    Excellent.....totally agree.