(First published December 2004in The Mayor’s Alliance for Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals newsletter, Out of the Cage!)
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is the same subfamily as HIV, the causative agent of AIDS in humans.
- It primarily disrupts immune function; therefore, the clinical signs are diverse.
- Initially, the virus infects the blood, the lymphatics, and the immune system, but later opportunistic infections affect other body systems.
- Once a cat becomes symptomatic, we typically see recurrent minor illnesses, particularly respiratory and digestive, but also including a wide range of others.
- Transmission is most often cat-to-cat (usually bite wounds), which is why male cats that roam are at higher risk. Occasionally infections occur mother-to-kitten.
Now the Good News!
- This infection is slowly progressive, and healthy, positive cats may remain healthy for years. More than 50 percent of positive cats will remain asymptomatic from four-and-a-half to six years after estimated time of infection. (It’s not until late in the disease that life expectancy decreases.)
- Since transmission requires direct contact, you needn’t worry about infecting your friends’ or family members’ cats. (You can’t carry the virus on your clothes or person.)
- There is no known potential for transmission of FIV from cats to humans.
- Kittens under six months of age may test positive due to passive transfer of antibodies from a positive queen (mother). In other words, a positive test does not indicate infection. Young kittens who test positive should be re-tested at 8–12 months to determine true infection. They might, in fact, test negative at that point.
- If a healthy, low-risk cat tests positive on the initial (ELISA) screening test, your veterinarian might recommend an additional test (Western Blot) to confirm infection. False-positive results sometimes occur.
Things to Remember
- FIV-positive cats must remain indoors to protect them from exposure to pathogens and to prevent spread of the disease.
- Be sure to quarantine and test all cats coming into a multi-cat home.
- FIV-positive cats should also be tested for other infectious diseases, including feline leukemia and toxoplasmosis.
Brook Needs a Home
Brook was discovered under a step in Brooklyn when she was only two weeks old. Her mother was nowhere to be found. A rescuer brought her inside and bottle-fed her KMR for several days, but then called the Mayor’s Alliance for assistance; she no longer could manage the frequent feedings because of her work schedule. A foster family took in the tiny, fluffy “bag of bones” and began nursing her back to health.
At about seven weeks of age, Brook suddenly became very ill, with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. Her foster mom rushed her to the vet. Despite a poor prognosis, Brook pulled through. However, she tested positive for FIV.
Brook will be re-tested within several months to confirm her positive test result. In the meantime, she is leading a very active lifestyle, including vacationing with her best friend, a Bullmastiff, in Upstate New York and Vermont. Brook also attended the Union Square Children’s Festival as a representative for the Mayor’s Alliance. She is very confident and loving, and exhibiting no physical or behavioral signs that she might be FIV-positive.
FIV+ Brothers Find Their Happy Ending
These two beautiful orange tabby brothers — Bucky and Satchel — were trapped with their mom when they were only five weeks old. Their mom was spayed and returned to her home feral colony. Since then, both kittens have settled down quite a bit, thanks to expert socializing by a Mayor’s Alliance volunteer. Although they tested positive for FIV, both kittens will be re-tested in six month to confirm the result. Regardless of the test results, however, Bucky and Satchel are home free — their foster family recently decided that the pair made the perfect permanent addition to their family.