Pawsitively Humane

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

FIV- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Known as the feline version of AIDS, the word is frightening at first sound and read. However, the science around this disease is growing and indoor cats can live and enjoy many years in comfort. Please read this post carefully to learn the latest in testing.

In our experience, many vets are not fully aware of the implications and non-implications of FIV. So it's important to do your own homework and ask many questions.

FIV, as the name indicates, affects the immune system of the cat.  The virus is transmitted primarily through bite wounds, so cats that go outside or live with infected housemates are at greatest risk. It can be transmitted through the placenta from an infected mother cat to her kittens as well. There is a small risk associated with sharing food bowls, mutual grooming, and other activities that could expose an uninfected cat to an infected cat’s saliva.


An FIV-infected cat may not show any symptoms for years. Although the virus is slow-acting, a cat’s immune system is severely weakened once the disease takes hold. This makes the cat susceptible to various secondary infections. Cats that exhibit the following symptoms should be taken to vet for examination:
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Disheveled coat
  • Poor appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnormal appearance or inflammation of the eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis)
  • Inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis) or excessive drooling
  • Dental disease
  • Skin redness or hair loss
  • Wounds that don’t heal
  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from eyes or nose
  • Frequent urination, straining to urinate or urinating outside of litter box
  • Behavior change

How Can FIV Be Prevented? 

The best way to prevent your cat from contracting the virus is to keep him indoors, avoiding any chance of contact with infected felines. If you walk your cat, keep him on a leash when outdoors. And if your cat is going to be spending any time in a cattery or in a home with other felines, make sure all cats have tested negative for FIV. 


Testing for FIV gets tricky. A SNAP®  FIV/FeLV* combo blood test is not 100% reliable. Sometimes there may be a false positive. So if a test results "positive", a secondary more expensive test is needed to confirm (Western Blot). So if you're wondering, "Why not do the Western Blot test from the start?" It costs more and needs to be sent to lab. The results take at least 24 hours. The SNAP Combo test takes 10 minutes for results. And yes, you can request the Western Blot test instead of the SNAP test at your vet. But if a SNAP®  combo shows negative,  there's generally no need for a second test, unless the cat was recently exposed to infected cat.

For kittens younger than six months, false positives are common in SNAP® tests. Kittens carry antibodies picked up from their mother but did not acquire the infection from her. Early in our work of rescuing kittens, vets would encourage us to euthanize a kitten with FIV. We refused and retested the kitten at six months only to result negative. We made the wise choice to keep the kitten, wait and retest.

Now testing a rescued stray cat gets more complicated. If a pet cat has received the vaccination, and gets lost or dumped, and someone rescues the cat and takes to vet, the cat will show positive on both the SNAP Combo and Western Blot test. But you don't know if that cat was a pet or had the vaccination. Ask for the polymerase chain reaction test.

* FeLV = Feline Leukemia Virus
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