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FIV-Positive Cat: Should I Adopt a Cat With FIV?

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Anne is a self-proclaimed crazy cat lady and adopted an FIV+ cat.

(My adorable FIV+ cat, Winston.) FIV positive cats are not high-maintenance; consider adopting one.

(My adorable FIV+ cat, Winston.) FIV positive cats are not high-maintenance; consider adopting one.

Consider Saving the Life of a Cat With FIV

If you really want to make a difference, adopt an FIV+ cat.

What is FIV? Like HIV in humans, FIV is a feline immunodeficiency virus. FIV+ cats almost always get overlooked just for this reason. It's not because these cats are high maintenance but because most people are uneducated on the topic. I was at first, too.

Years ago, I fostered an FIV+ cat, thinking I'd have to give him shots and take him to the vet often, but there was literally nothing different in caring for him than any other cat. After that experience, I knew the first cat I got on my own would be FIV+. Enter Winston.

Not one person wanted him in the two years he was with the shelter after being rescued from the streets. I picked him specifically because of the FIV, and they told me, "You're the first one to ever ask about him!" The people who overlooked him missed out; he is incredibly sweet, cuddly, and friendly. Everyone who meets him loves him; he's a very social cat and loves being around people.

What Should You Know About FIV

There are a few things to know about FIV.

  1. Humans cannot catch FIV: It is exclusively a feline virus.
  2. Cats can only spread it to other cats by blood: This means a deep, deep bite down to the gums or a very deep scratch down to the claw cuticle. Playful wrestling will not warrant this, only very rough, out-to-kill fights, which is why many shelter cats who have lived on the streets, unfortunately, have contracted it. An FIV+ cat is very unlikely to spread the virus to an FIV- cat while play-fighting.
  3. FIV is not a "sickness": There are no medications or special treatment of any kind required. There is no medication required for the majority of their life. All FIV does is lower a cat's immune system, so he should not go outside. This is the only major stipulation of owning an FIV+ cat. He should be indoors, and if you notice something amiss, the cat should be taken to a vet sooner rather than later since they have low immune systems. Otherwise, nothing about owning an FIV+ cat takes extra effort or expense during their good years. They are just like normal cats.
  4. Many shelters reward FIV+ cat adopters with benefits: These benefits include free veterinary care and/or a waived adoption fee. Shelter employees and volunteers know better than anyone how loving and wonderful FIV+ cats can be, and they encourage these adoptions, often with added incentive, besides the reward of giving a sweet little dumpling who is always overlooked a loving home.
Winston is King of the Apartment. #HouseWinston

Winston is King of the Apartment. #HouseWinston

Tips for Adopting a Cat or Dog

If you're looking to adopt a pet for the first (or second or third) time, as an animal lover myself and a self-proclaimed crazy cat lady, I have some suggestions that I believe will greatly benefit you and your future pet in the long run.

1. Adopt Adult Cats and Dogs

Everyone wants puppies and kittens, and why wouldn't they? They're adorable beyond measure and a lot of fun. There's also the added incentive of getting to "raise" them from a baby into adulthood and watch them grow. It is a rewarding experience, and I don't discourage pet adoption of any kind.

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But for every kitten that gets adopted, there are hundreds of fully grown cats that do not. Even at the very young age of one year old, a cat is physically fully-grown, which causes many potential adopters to overlook them. Just because he's technically an "adult" cat does not mean he is not playful, loving, funny (in the "aw look, he's chasing his tail" sense rather than the witty, sarcastic sense), and energetic.

Many people are under the impression that adopting a full-grown animal means adopting an "old" animal, but this is simply not the case. Adopting a cat at one, two, even three or four years old simply means bypassing the "baby" months when they need constant attention.

Honestly, as precious as kittens are, they get kind of tiring! They're little balls of energy that are either playing hard or sleeping hard with no middle ground; they're not often calm enough to sit placidly with you, plus they need to be litter-trained and require a lot of attention. (Again, not discouraging adopting of ANY kind!) Adult cats are a bit calmer, a bit more like a companion or friend than a baby you need to constantly watch over.

2. Adopt Older Cats and Dogs

I'm going to take it a step further and say: Adopt older cats and dogs. Kittens and puppies require constant attention, and while I'm not as familiar with dogs, cats can live from 18–20, sometimes older. Many of the adult cats that get ignored in shelters may have a good ten or more years in them, and it's sad to think they have to spend their long lives in a shelter. (I'm not dissing shelters—they do AMAZING work, and I've volunteered at many. But a life amongst many other cats, in and out of cages, instead of in the familiar, comforting environment of a forever-home, is undoubtedly stressful.)

In fact, older cats make perfect companions for people who want a pet but don't have the energy to constantly play with or entertain it, such as an elderly person or a college student. I'm gone a lot of the day at work, and when I get home, I like to relax.

While my nine-year-old cat definitely still gets rambunctious at times, usually he's content to sit with me on the couch and watch TV or take naps with me or lays next to me while I'm reading a book. He's the best kind of pet I could want for my lifestyle, and in return, he gets a plush living environment, guaranteed food and medical treatment, and a human companion to give him ear scratches and love. It's a win-win.

3. Consider Rescuing Animals That Had a Hard Start

Don't let a dog or cat who's a bit rougher around the edges—scars, no tail, missing some fur—deter you. If anything, these guys need to be adopted more than any other. I once fostered a cat missing half of his ear, and everyone asked why I picked him—because he was the sweetest cat ever! He crawled right up into your lap and purred like crazy. He was adopted after a few months of fostering thanks to my write-up praising his super-friendly demeanor, and that made me so happy, but he might've been overlooked if someone hadn't taken the time to get to know him.

My cat Winston, too, had scabs and some fur missing when I got him, but he healed over time, and while he's still bald on the backs of his ears, who cares! Just look at how cute he is! More often than not—even if skittish at first—the guys that have been most neglected or abused make THE BEST pets; you just may need to be patient with them. If they were abused by humans, naturally, they will need time to learn that you will not hurt them. And when they finally do come around and start to trust you, I promise you, your heart will melt.

Naturally, he picks the one square of sunlight

Naturally, he picks the one square of sunlight

More About FIV

Winston and I have been best buds and roommates for over two years now, and we both couldn't be happier. For more information on FIV:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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