FIV: Is this a death sentence for cats?
FIV Positive. Its the words we as rescuers dread to hear, but what exactly does this mean for cats in rescue? Cats in homes? Stray or Feral cats? In some areas of the country a cat that tests positive for FIV is euthanized. But does it have to be that way?
What is FIV?
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV is similar in cats as HIV is in humans and produces a disease similar to AIDS. However in felines FIV is spread through bite wounds. Casual play and non aggressive behavior in cats does not spread the virus. While cats can live years without symptoms of the virus eventually it can cause a suppressed immune system and can cause the cat to become more prone to sickness. The cat could deteriorate on a progressive level or it could show in recurring sickness. Some of the signs that your cat may have FIV are:
Poor coat condition
loss of appetite
inflammation of the gums or mouth
Upper respiratory infections
Urinary tract infections
Slow, progressive weigh loss
and often cats with FIV are more prone to cancers.
If your cat has recently been diagnosed with FIV and is currently living with other cats it is not always necessary to separate the cats. Cats that live in a stable communal environment have lower risks of spreading FIV than cats who are unaltered and living as strays or in unmanaged feral colonies. FIV is spread through aggressive behavior, not through common interaction with housemates.
So the safest thing to do is have all the cats in the household tested for FIV. Make sure all of the cats are either spayed or neutered and monitor their health closely. Cats with FIV should eat a nutritional balanced diet with no raw or uncooked foods such as eggs or dairy. FIV positive cats should remain indoors so as not to spread the disease to neighborhood cats.
FIV is not transferable to humans and cannot live outside of the feline so the cats toys and bowls are not sources of infections and can be used by other cats.
Mustachio is a large tuxedo cat that lived for many years in a shelter environment in his own crate. He was so agoraphobic that he would have to be transferred from one crate to another to clean his crate daily. He had no intention of ever living outside that small cage. When the shelter changed hands Mustachio was fully vetted with the intention of him entering the communal cat room. However those dreaded words were spoken. FIV positive. Now Mustachio was already a cat of at least 5 years old at the time and he had never had so much as a sniffle. So he was retested. Positive again!
So back he went into the cage. Then after some research was done it was determined that since he couldn’t live in the cat room, he would become the resident free roaming cat at the shelter. So his agoraphobia was tackled next. Soon he began to live happily in the shelter. He was so good natured and so sweet that there was nearly no way he was going to infect anything with FIV. It still amazed the shelter workers that he even had the disease and he was a surprise to the vets as well as he was completely asymptomatic. Eventually he went to live with one of the shelter directors in her household. He has been living for years with three other cats who he adores and snuggles with daily. Mustachio has still showed no signs of illness in his over 10 years of life.
Just because a cat tests positive for FIV, does not mean he has a death sentence. Long happy lives are not only possible, but probable for cats who can be given a second chance at life.
If you are considering adopting an FIV positive cat from a rescue group it is imperative that you know the cats personality and its medical history. Homes who will take FIV positive cats are few and far between and these cats are often euthanized while perfectly healthy. Some homes choose to adopt only FIV positive cats so that all of the cats in the house are infected and therefore cannot infect each other. Some people choose to bring in an FIV positive cat into a home with other non infected cats due to the calm nature of all cats involved. Some rescues will not adopt an FIV positive cat into a home with non infected cats and some will if the right situations present themselves.
Some feral cat groups do not even test feral cats for FIV as they have lived in colonies for so long that if they were going to infect their colony mates its already been done. They feel that it is better to let them live their lives out naturally but as spayed/neutered and vaccinated cats.
There are many opinions out there on the subject. However it is very important to shed light on this disease and instead of living in fear of those words, know what to do when you hear them. Make an informed decision.
If you can help by adoption FIV positive cats contact your local shelter and offer to take only FIV cats either into your private colony or if the cats are domestic, into your home where they can live happily.
Mustachio was happy that his shelter did not euthanize him, his life has been long and without sickness.
Please consider helping these wonderful cats have homes.