Everything you need to know about Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

If you’ve visited one of our shelters before, you may have heard the term FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) thrown around.

And while it’s natural to be confused about the name, you’ll soon realise it’s a condition that many cats can live with for years without issue.

Here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know.

What is FIV?

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is estimated to be present in approximately 14-29 per cent of Australia’s cat population.

The virus causes a gradually progressive decline in immune function. Despite this, many FIV-positive cats are expected to have a normal life expectancy and similar quality of life to uninfected cats.

Signs of infection can vary and usually take years to show up. But when they do, they can look like this:

  • Fever
  • Inflammation of the mouth and/or gums
  • Recurrent infections
  • Discharge from eyes and/or nose
  • Diarrhoea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Anaemia
  • Weight loss

If you notice any of these signs in your cat, or think your cat may be unwell, take them to a veterinarian immediately.

When managed properly with veterinary care, the signs of FIV are often treatable.

Is it the same as Feline AIDS?

No, FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and Feline AIDS (Feline Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) are not the same.

FIV can cause an AIDS-like condition but AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) specifically refers to the end stage of the virus, which occurs after a typically long period of time.

Feline AIDS can be an outcome of an FIV infection but some FIV cats may never develop Feline AIDS.

What is Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)?

FIV is also commonly confused for something called FeLV, which stands for Feline Leukemia Virus.

FeLV is a similar type of virus that impacts the cat’s immune system, but it can cause tumours, and has a lower survival rate than FIV. FeLV is more contagious, as it can be transmitted through shared food bowls and grooming.

Can humans catch FIV?

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

No. FIV is a feline host-specific virus, and there is no evidence that it causes human infection.

People who have had close contact with infected cats or direct exposure to FIV through cat bites or laboratory accidents do not develop antibodies, illness or any other evidence of infection.

Can other cats catch FIV?

Yes they can, which is why RSPCA NSW suggests only adopting an FIV-positive cat if you have no other cats at home. Or, if you already own an FIV-positive cat.

However, it’s not considered highly contagious. While the infection is spread through saliva, it’s primarily transmitted when an FIV-infected cat bites an uninfected cat. Transmission via modes other than direct biting is unlikely.

Can you vaccinate against FIV?

There is a vaccine but it’s considered to only be effective in approximately one half of vaccinated cats. So it’s important to note that a moderate chance of infection is still possible, even with a vaccination.

Talk to your veterinarian to see if a vaccination is appropriate for your cat and circumstances.

What do I need to know about adopting a cat with FIV?

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

There are a few things to keep in mind when you take an FIV-positive cat home.

As mentioned above, RSPCA NSW commonly recommends you only adopt a FIV-positive cat if you have no other cats at home, or if your current cat is FIV-positive. But, seeing as it’s a disease that only affects cats, other animals like dogs cannot be infected – you can totally have another four-legged friend to keep them company.

We also recommend that you keep your FIV-positive cat inside. Not only will this prevent them coming across potentially life-threatening injuries or illnesses, letting them roam increases the chances of infecting others. Play it safe by keeping them comfortable and entertained indoors.

It’s a good idea to go for a routine health check-up at the veterinarian once every six or 12 months too. Good nutrition, dental care and an enriched, stress-free environment are also important to promote physical and mental health.

Other than these simple guidelines, treat your FIV-positive cat with compassion, care and affection. FIV-positive cats are just as curious and lovable as a cat without this condition – and should be treated as such!

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