By Katie McHenry
Whether you are looking for a suave, affectionate “ladies’ man” like Billy (adopted); a shy but sweet black cat like Biscuit #1 (adopted); a hilariously rambunctious brown tabby cat like Biscuit #2; or a polite, friendly tuxedo like Ozzy, we may have the right cat for you! While these boys all have different personalities and need different types of homes, they do have one thing in common: they survived living as stray kitties on the streets where they became infected with FIV.
After being rescued, receiving appropriate vet care (including vaccinations, deworming, neutering, etc.) and moving to a strictly indoor lifestyle, these boys are waiting for homes of their own. And despite being FIV-positive, they are all expected to live nice long lives.
What is FIV?
“So, what is FIV?” you ask. Feline immunodeficiency virus is a retrovirus (similar to HIV in humans) that affects between 1.5 and 3 percent of cats in the U.S., and which is transmitted primarily via bite wounds. That’s why outdoor, free-roaming, unneutered males are at the highest risk for becoming infected with FIV, since they will fight with other cats over territory or females.
It’s important that FIV-positive cats live strictly indoors — away from sources of potential secondary infection and away from other cats with whom they may fight over territory. They also need to be neutered and receive proactive health care, especially for any infections that may be harder for their immune systems to address, such as gingivitis in their gums. FIV-positive cats can, however, live healthy lives for years after becoming infected. All four of our FIV-positive boys are expected to have long lives.
In honor of our current FIV kitties, we’re answering some frequently asked questions regarding this often-misunderstood disease.
Q: Can FIV-positive cats transmit the virus to humans?
A: No, the feline immunodeficiency virus can only affect cats. Dogs, humans and all other non-feline species cannot be infected with FIV. This is why we sometimes try to pair an FIV-positive cat with a canine playmate — there is zero risk of FIV transmission to a dog!
Q: What are the ways in which cats transmit the virus?
A: The primary means of transmission is via deep bite wounds; an FIV transmission doesn’t stem from mating. The cats most likely to be infected by the FIV virus are unneutered males with access to the outdoors, since intact males are more likely to engage in aggressive fighting. In extremely rare instances, a pregnant FIV-positive mother cat can transmit the virus to her kittens.
Q: How is FIV diagnosed?
A: Your vet can administer an ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test. If there are any FIV-specific antibodies present, the vet can assume that either (a) the cat is FIV-positive or (b) the cat has received an FIV vaccine (see next question).
Additionally, if a kitten is only a few months old and was born to an FIV-positive mother, he or she might test positive because an ELISA test only tests for the presence of antibodies rather than the presence of the virus itself. The mother cat passes on to her kittens these antibodies, which remain in her kittens’ systems until they are old enough to produce their own antibodies. However, as stated above, the chances of an FIV-positive mother passing on the virus to her kittens are very slim. If a kitten tests positive for FIV, he or she should be retested several months later. In many cases, a kitten who tested positive for FIV the first time around will test negative when older.
Q: Is there a vaccine to prevent FIV?
A: Yes, but because — like HIV in humans — there is more than one strain of FIV, and the vaccine is strain-specific, the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective. Additionally, any cat who has received the vaccine will test positive for FIV due to the presence of FIV-specific antibodies in his or her system.
Q: What are the symptoms of FIV?
A: Four to six weeks after transmission, the cat will have enlarged lymph nodes, a fever, and a low white blood cell count. After this stage, the cat may appear healthy anywhere from months to 12 years later! FIV is a lentivirus — meaning it moves slowly — so once the virus gradually begins to take hold of a cat’s immune system, he might experience symptoms that could include gum and mouth inflammation, persistent fever, recurrent upper respiratory or urinary tract infections, diarrhea, emaciation, and, in some cases, dementia.
Q: Is it okay for FIV-positive cats to live with uninfected cats?
A: Yes, FIV-positive cats can actually live with non-FIV-positive cats without risk of transmission so long as there is a stable social hierarchy in place with no fighting or rough play among the cats. Adopt an FIV Cat! Now that you have a better understanding of FIV-positive cats, can you find a place in your heart (and home) to add one of these cats to your family? If you’re interested in adopting Billy (adopted), Biscuit #1 (adopted) or #2, Ozzy, or any other cat in our care, visit our cat adoption page.