Last Updated: March 7, 2022
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a common infectious disease in cats. But, even though having your cat diagnosed with FIV sounds scary, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. Most cats live long and happy lives, regardless of their diagnosis. Our guide provides you with the essential information about this disease, how to take care of an infected cat and knowing when to put down a cat with FIV.
What Is FIV?
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (feline AIDS or cat AIDS) is a retrovirus that affects the normal function of a cat’s cells—primarily targeting white blood cells—compromising its immune system. A cat with FIV can gradually become vulnerable to secondary infections and experience more severe symptoms due to its weakened immune response. Even when FIV is inevitable, it typically takes years before cats show any physical signs of illness.
How do cats get FIV? The most common way of FIV transmission is via bite wounds from an infected cat, which puts outdoor cats at a higher risk of becoming infected than indoor ones. It’s been estimated that about 4% of all feral cats in the US are infected with FIV.
Apart from the possibility of being transmitted through bite wounds, FIV can also be passed on to kittens from an infected mother. Despite popular myths, this virus cannot be transmitted from cats with FIV to healthy ones by sharing a litter box or an eating bowl or via grooming, sneezing, or sexual contact. And the virus only affects cats—it cannot be transmitted to humans.
|DID YOU KNOW? One of the most popular myths about FIV-infected cats is that you should keep them outside. But if your cat is an FIV carrier, it’s best to keep them indoors and not let them go out, thereby preventing transmission to other cats.|
How does a cat get FIV, and what are the disease symptoms? There are three FIV stages of the infection.
Acute Phase/ Initial Infection
This stage typically occurs one to three months after the cat gets infected. At this point, the virus is carried in the lymph nodes, reproducing T-lymphocytes—a type of leukocyte (white blood cell). Next, the virus spreads to the other lymph nodes in the cat’s body, where the first signs of infection occur.
The most common signs in this FIV phase include fever, diarrhea, weight loss, depression, lack of appetite, and enlarged lymph nodes. Cats with FIV at this stage generally show mild infection signs that are often undetected by owners or attributed to other fever causes.
The asymptomatic phase—when cats show no symptoms of FIV infection—can last from several months to years. During this time, the virus replicates within the cells at a languid pace, which is why cats don’t experience apparent signs of infection.
Cats at this stage, however, may exhibit blood test abnormalities in white blood cell levels or increased blood proteins. But FIV in cats doesn’t mean a short life expectancy for them. On the contrary, most infected cats live long and happy (protected) lives. Still, their immune system can gradually become more compromised, progressing to a more severe stage of the disease, which leads to the third FIV phase.
If the FIV virus continues to spread through a cat’s immune system, it may experience the consequences of immunodeficiency: secondary infections. They can develop recurrent or chronic infections of the skin, eyes, urinary tract, or upper respiratory tract. Gingivostomatitis (a severe gum inflammation) is also one of the end-stage FIV symptoms, as well as weight loss, seizures, behavioral changes, and neurological disorders.
These secondary infections are typically treated as soon as they appear. But once the cat becomes ill with multiple severe infections (or even cancer), it’s likely to live only a few months.
Is FIV Curable?
Currently, there is no antiviral remedy for FIV. But even though you cannot predict the lifespan of an infected cat, it typically lives a normal and healthy life for many years if taken care of properly. Unfortunately, their survival odds become less favorable once the end-stage of FIV cats commences—experiencing more severe secondary illnesses or persistent fever and weight loss. (A vaccine in the US had been designed to prevent FIV infection, but its use has been controversial.)
Many assume that if their cat has been diagnosed with FIV, they will soon die. But most FIV-infected cats live asymptomatic lives for many years. And once the symptoms begin, they can often be treated with various medications—one of which is pet CBD oil, used to relieve joint pains and seizures.
Mixing FIV cats with other cats is ill-advised since they may fight and spread the infection. Instead, it’s best to keep your cat indoors. Ensure they live in a stress-free environment—providing scratching posts, hiding spots, and a clean litter box.
|DID YOU KNOW? A controversial FIV vaccine was invented in the US in 2002, but its reliability remains undetermined. A shortfall of this vaccine is that vaccinated cats would automatically test positive for FIV, even though they weren’t infected with the virus.|
|FIV is a type of virus that affects the normal function of white blood cells in cats, weakening their immune system.|
|FIV is transmitted by a cat’s deep bites to other cats but is not contagious to humans.|
|End-stage FIV cats are more susceptible to secondary infections, resulting in severe (even fatal) symptoms.|
|There is still no FIV antiviral remedy or effective vaccine.|
How Long Do Cats With FIV Live?
An FIV cat’s lifespan is difficult to predict, depending on such factors as the cat’s health, the stage of the virus, the progression of the disease, etc. Typically, cats that become infected with the virus still have robust immune systems for several years after the infection. Over time, however, if the infection progresses, the effects of the virus will begin to show.
Several studies have shown that a cat with FIV can have a normal life expectancy if adequately cared for. Most secondary infections can be successfully treated with medication as the virus slowly progresses. It’s more likely for an infected cat to be killed on the road than from an FIV-related condition.
Caring for an FIV Cat
As each healthy cat is different, so is an FIV-infected one. Therefore, there’s no universal guide on how to take care of your FIV cat. You only need to consider its unique individual needs. But overall, FIV positive cat-care requires the same as a healthy one. Note the following general guideline on how to take care of your FIV cat.
- Provide a stress-free living environment.
- Reduce the risk of acquiring secondary infections.
- Ensure your cat gets immediate treatment with the onset of disease symptoms.
- Prevent the spread of FIV to other cats by keeping yours indoors.
- Spaying and neutering reduce the risk of spreading FIV to kittens and other cats.
- Provide a nutritious, well-balanced diet. (Avoid raw foods and raw eggs.)
- Visit your vet at least twice a year.
- Closely monitor its health and behavior.
Cats with FIV may also be administered preventive medication, such as deworming and heartworm remedies, flea and tick treatment, vitamin and mineral supplements, etc.
Taking care of an FIV-positive cat requires many veterinary visits, costing a considerable amount of money. In addition, infected cats are often administered parasite medication and need regular blood work to monitor the disease’s progress. Therefore, it’s good to obtain pet insurance to save some money and ultimately prolong its FIV cat lifespan.
|DID YOU KNOW? While keeping your cat indoors, it’s essential to give them access to fresh air to avoid chronic exposure to air pollutants. You can also take your cat on a walk but make sure to use a leash.|
When to Put Down a Cat With FIV?
In the past, if your cat tested positive for FIV, vets wanted to euthanize your pet. And most owners of a cat with FIV pondered when to euthanize them. Fortunately, this practice is no longer common, thanks to research about this virus.
Even though it’s a severe and likely fatal disease, once a cat shows initial FIV symptoms, it can remain asymptomatic for years. It can live comfortably while on medication, so you don’t need to put it down.
An FIV-positive cat, however, would need to be put down if it develops one or several dangerous health conditions due to secondary infections, which weakens its immune system—one of the end-stage FIV symptoms. If the FIV symptoms become too severe, the cat needs to be put down.
Consult Your Vet
It’s vital to seek your vet’s advice and experience before deciding to euthanize your infected cat. Sometimes, your cat’s health might seem worse than it is, or you might interpret a symptom as severe when, in fact, your vet could treat your cat with prescribed medication.
You shouldn’t worry if your cat is diagnosed with FIV. If you provide good FIV-positive cat care, it’s likely to live for years without experiencing radical changes in its quality of life. Monitor your cat’s health and behavior closely, and never think of euthanizing it without consulting your vet.
Once FIV destroys enough white blood cells, your cat will become more prone to secondary infections, manifested in life-threatening symptoms. The end-stage of FIV cats is when their immune systems drastically decline.
Continuous FIV treatment can be quite expensive. So it’s essential to talk to your vet about its cost. There’s often more than one treatment option, so if one doesn’t work for you or your cat, your vet may be able to recommend another.
Recent studies have shown that this infection doesn’t necessarily shorten an infected cat’s life. It can, however, live to reach its total life expectancy with proper care, regardless of the disease. So if you’re thinking about when to put down a cat with FIV, note that it shouldn’t be done the moment you discover it’s been infected with the virus.