What Is FIV Disease in Cats?

Black cat walking in grass field.
Black cat walking in grass field. (Image: AnnWorthy/iStock/Getty Images)

FIV in cats -- feline immunodeficiency virus -- is similar to the human immunodeficiency virus plaguing people. HIV infection can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. FIV infection can lead to the feline version of AIDS. While a vaccination for FIV is available, it has drawbacks. It provides protection to 82 percent of cats, leaving 18 percent vaccinated but vulnerable. Any cat given the vaccine will test positive for FIV, and the shot increases the likelihood of later tumor development.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

FIV passes from cat to cat through an exchange of bodily fluids. FIV-positive nursing mothers might infect their kittens, while mating cats pass the virus through sex. Tom cats living outdoors are at high risk, since they also tend to fight with other males and inflict bite wounds. After the initial infection, the cat's lymph nodes might swell and he will run a fever. In many cases, he recovers and appears just fine for a considerable period. Over time, FIV might break down the body's immune system, leaving the cat vulnerable to opportunistic and secondary infections that a healthy cat's immune system easily overcomes. FIV isn't transmissible from felines to people.

FIV Symptoms

Cats suffering from FIV display various symptoms, ranging from poor, dry coats to seizures. Weight and appetite loss, diarrhea, eye problems, chronic infections and oral inflammation are among the most common disorders related to FIV. Other symptoms include hair loss, nonhealing wounds, urinary difficulties, anemia and behavioral changes. As the disease progresses, cats might experience neurological issues, constant fevers and different types of cancer.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet diagnoses FIV by examining the cat and performing a blood test measuring viral antibodies. There's no cure for FIV and no real treatment to keep FIV infection from progressing into active disease, but good care makes a big difference in Kitty's outcome. FIV in cats doesn't necessarily mean affected felines are doomed to a short, painful life. Many FIV-positive cats remain asymptomatic for years, or never develop symptoms.

FIV Cat Care

If your otherwise healthy cat is diagnosed as FIV-positive, don't despair and assume he requires immediate euthanasia. With a little extra effort on your part, he can live a normal life. He'll require at least semi-annual veterinary visits for a checkup and routine blood and urine testing. Take him to the vet if he develops even a minor health issue. FIV-positive cats must be spayed or neutered and live indoors. Feed him a healthy diet and avoid raw foods. Since FIV is transmitted through sexual contact, it's probably safe to keep him in the house with neutered, non-FIV pets, but ask your vet for advice. FIV can pass through bite wounds, although most house cats don't bite each other except during a serious fight.

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