We’d like to introduce you to Teddy, who is as cuddly as his name suggests. It only took one look at that sweet face with the battered ears and we were all smitten. Teddy was recently found as an unneutered stray and was brought into our care and is now waiting patiently for his forever home. He has been vet-checked, fully vaccinated, treated for fleas and worms and of course he’s been neutered. Poor Teddy was someone’s pet cat once, he’s so cuddly and friendly, but despite all efforts an owner could not be located. Teddy was found to be Feline Immunodeficiency Virus positive (FIV+) so his new owner needs to understand what this diagnosis means for him, for them and for his care. Most importantly, Teddy and all cats diagnosed with FIV, can live a normal, happy and long life. So, to help prospective adopters understand more about FIV we’ve summarised some useful information from Cats Protection and other reliable sources.
What is FIV?
It is a virus that affects a cat’s immune system slowly over a matter of years.
It was only discovered in 1986, but has been around for a lot longer.
FIV is a virus specific to cats and only cats.
It cannot exist for more than a few seconds outside the body.
It is normally transmitted by severe bites, but occasionally an infected mother cat can pass it to her kittens via her milk, or during mating.
FIV is most commonly diagnos-ed in cats 5-10 years old, especially feral, stray or free-roaming toms like Teddy.
The terminal stage of FIV may not occur for many years and does not always develop at all before the cat develops some other age-related condition, as with most other cats.
FIV is a retrovirus which means it inserts itself into the cat’s genes.
What FIV is NOT
FIV is NOT easily passed between cats
FIV is NOT passed to humans
FIV is NOT passed to other species eg dogs
FIV is NOT Feline AIDS
FIV is NOT a death sentence for your cat
How do Cats catch FIV?
The virus is not easily passed between cats – it does not pass via shared food bowls, water bowls, litter brushes, grooming equipment or toys. It CAN be passed through blood transfusions, severe gum infection (which opens a gateway into the body), occasionally via a mother’s milk to her kittens, but mostly through the kind of severe, infected bite wounds and abcesses normally only seen in free-roaming tom cats. Kittens that do test positive for FIV should be tested after about four months because this may be a false positive from antibodies in their mother’s milk – the kittens themselves may not actually have FIV at all. A well-cared for neutered cat of either sex, living in a stable home, and kept in at night, is very unlikely to come into contact with the virus.
How is FIV diagnosed?
FIV has no symptoms. It is not likely that you would suspect that your cat has FIV.
The times when it is likely to be detected is if a cat has been with an organisation such as ours, where FIV screening may be indicated or if your vet decides to run an FIV test as part of the care regime.
FIV infection is diagnosed via a blood test, which checks for antibodies that are produced in response to FIV infection. If this indicates infection, the vet may undertake a more sensitive test to be absolutely certain.
Is there a Vaccine or a Cure?
There are some vaccines available, but it is not clear how effective they are. Many vets consider that the side effects of these vaccines are more problematic than FIV. In addition, once a cat has been vaccinated, it will always test positive for FIV even though it does not actually have the virus. There is no cure as such – once a cat is infected, s/he has it for life, even if the cat never develops a single symptom.
How can I help my Cat avoid FIV?
NEUTER YOUR CAT. This is the single most useful thing you can do for many reasons (I’m certain you’ve read those here before!) including avoiding FIV.
Neutered cats are far less likely to get involved in fights as they are low in the cat hierarchy. Keep your cat in-doors at night, because this is the most likely time for cats to fight. Keep a close eye on your cat’s health. If s/he has a lot of minor illnesses – snuffles, diarrhoea and so on – and goes out and has had fights (whether as aggressor or as victim) leading to puncture wounds or abcesses, discuss the possibility of FIV with your vet.
My Cat has FIV!
Don’t panic! There is absolutely no need to have your cat euthanased. If you have other cats in your household, have them tested for FIV as well – you need to know which ones to watch for health issues. However, unless your cats fight seriously among themselves, it is unlikely that they will have been infected. Help your cat’s immune system by ensuring that s/he has a healthy lifestyle, is regularly wormed and de-flead, and sees your vet regularly. The healthier a cat is, the less likely s/he will fall prey to other infections. Keep your cat indoors! This reduces both the likelihood of spreading the virus to another cat, and also of picking up infections. If you have cat insurance, you will need to notify the insurer. Most insurers do cover FIV as a new condition.
Caring for an FIV Cat
In most ways all that is required is the same for all cats and is pretty much the same as any “special needs” moggy!
Healthy food – the consensus appears to be that raw food is not recommended because it can contain parasites that are no problem for a healthy cat, but could be hazardous for a cat with a compromised immune system
A comfortable, stable environment either entirely indoors, or in a very protected outdoors situation
Regular vet check-ups, at least twice a year, with blood and urine analysis
Vaccinations (live vaccines are fine)
Parasite control – fleas, ticks, worms, mites
Immediate response to health issues – small things that would not be a problem for a young healthy cat should be thoroughly explored in any special needs or elderly cat
Be aware that there is always a possibility that the disease may accelerate and you may have to make hard decisions. This is true for all chronic conditions such as diabetes and renal failure. Enjoy the time
while your cat is not displaying any symptoms and do what you can to give them the best possible chance of good health. Most catteries will board FIV cats because they already ensure cats do not mingle and disinfect between residents.
Adopting an FIV cat
Most FIV cats do not actually display any symptoms at all, and live long, healthy lives. However, they are carriers of the virus and so could potentially infect other cats. The best situation for an FIV cat is to come into a quiet, loving home, with no other cats, where they live mainly or completely indoors, but maybe have access to an outside exercise pen, or walks outside on a harness and lead. In many ways this is similar to adopting a blind cat, where similar conditions are required for an entirely different reason. If you already have an FIV cat, you could still adopt another FIV cat provided the introduction is done carefully. Ordinary territorial spats that new housemates use to sort out their relationship are very unlikely to compromise the health of either cat.
HOWEVER, this is a virus that slowly attacks the immune system, so as with diabetic cats, you will need to be alert to even minor health issues and get treat-ment for them as soon as possible. If you take on an FIV cat, and you want to take out cat insurance, you may have difficulty in insuring them for conditions resulting from his FIV status. This varies by insurer, so you will need to look into the details.
CP FIV Cat Rehoming Policy
If a cat is in good health and has tested positive for FIV s/he can be put up for adoption by a branch of Cats Protection. But as with ALL the cats we home, our aim is always to provide all the information we have available to enable prospective adopters to make an informed choice. A healthy, FIV+ cat may live for many years – but then again, it may not. This should be made clear to the new owner.
Do you want to know more about adopting Teddy? We really hope so. He’s such a friendly and cuddly cat and would make a lovely companion. Teddy isn’t keen on other cats, so would need a home where he’s the one and only. At Swansea Cats Protection we have successfully homed many FIV+ cats who have gone on to be utterly adored family members.
If you’re interested in adopting or fostering one of our rescue cats or kittens please get in touch.
IMPORTANT: we are keen to match the right cat to the right home, based on our knowledge of the cat and the information you provide. However, due to the high number of applications we’re sorry to be unable to respond to unsuccessful applicants.
Please remember we are ALL UNPAID VOLUNTEERS trying to do our best for the rescue cats and kittens of Swansea.
We can be contacted via our Helpline 0345 2602 101 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note our helpline is answered by a messaging service and we will respond as soon as we can.