FIV in Cats

Sadly, FIV is still often considered a death sentence for cats and it really doesn’t need to be. Like so many other misconceptions, we have learned enough over the years about FIV in cats to help educate our public. Cats can live a relatively healthy and normal lifespan with some basic adjustments to their lifestyle. The obvious big change in an indoor/outdoor cats life, is that they can no longer wander the streets looking for neighbor cats to tangle with…and this really isn’t a bad thing, when you consider you’ll no longer be taking your cat to the vet to have an abcess from it’s last fight drained…

Facts about FIV:
• FIV is a highly species-specific virus. It cannot be spread from cats to humans (or from cat to any other non-feline species).

• FIV cats can lead long, healthy lives with few or no symptoms.

• FIV is not easily passed between cats through normal day-to-day activities.

• A spayed or neutered cat is extremely unlikely to spread the disease to other healthy, indoor cats if introduced properly.

• Aggressive, free-roaming male cats are more likely to become infected with FIV than any other type of domesticated cat.

• Male cats are two times more likely to be FIV-positive than female cats.

• The average age of FIV-infected cats is 3 to 5 years old.

• FIV-positive cats must remain indoors, free from stress, kept on a high-quality diet, and be treated by a vet if any secondary infection occurs.

How Common is FIV?
The prevalence of FIV varies from 1% to 15% (with the American Association of Feline Practitioners suggesting that 1 in every 12 cats tested is FIV+). In the United States, approximately 1.5 to 3 percent of all healthy cats have been infected with FIV.

Aggressive, free-roaming male cats are more likely to become infected with FIV than any other type of domesticated cat. In fact, male cats are twice as likely to be FIV+ than female cats. The average age of infected cats is between 3-5 years old. Furthermore, FIV has the lowest number of occurrences in rural areas where the cat population is low or in areas where most or all cats are kept indoors.

How is FIV Spread?
Although the virus is present in a cat’s blood, saliva and cerebrospinal fluid, it is extremely fragile. Therefore, FIV does not survive outside of the infected cat’s body for very long.

FIV is shed through a cat’s saliva. The most common mode of transmission is through bite wounds that occur during cat fights. FIV is not spread by the casual day-to-day contact between cats that reside in households with stable social structures.

FIV may also be transmitted from a mother cat to her kittens. This type of transmission usually occurs when the kitten passes through the birth canal or by ingesting infected milk. Sexual contact between cats is not a primary means of spreading FIV.

FIV+ cats are able to share food bowls, litter boxes and toys without transmitting the virus to other cats in the household. FIV+ cats can even sleep and play with other cats in the household without infecting them.

Over time, FIV hinders the cat’s immune system, which then leads to chronic health problems and allows opportunistic infections to run rampant through the cat’s body. For instance, FIV+ cats chronically have gum and mouth inflammation.

How is FIV Treated and Managed?
It is most important that you inform your veterinarian that your cat is FIV-positive to ensure that your vet will treat your cat with the best of care, such as proper vaccinations and aggressive treatment when infections occur.

Try to keep your cat’s stress level low. A common source of stress for cats is any type of change. Try to keep as stable and unchanging an environment for your FIV-positive cat as possible. Also avoid allowing your FIV-positive cat to have contact with other ill animals.

FIV-positive cats should be indoor-only cats (no exceptions) to help prevent secondary infections and to help prevent the spread of FIV to other cats.

Feed your cat a nutritional diet, avoiding uncooked foods like raw meat, eggs and unpasteuurized dairy products.

Visit the vet regularly. Your veterinarian should do a complete blood count, serum biochemical analysis, and a urine analysis annually.

Don’t forget to love and cherish your cat every day!


Juliet; an FIV positive cat who was abandoned in a grocery store parking lot, pregnant. She lived there for over a week, begging for food and scavenging the garbage cans until an Indigo Rescue founder learned of her plight and intervened. Now, she lives a happy, healthy life in her new home. Look at the sweet, perfect little heart on the tip of her nose…

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