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Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
By Virginia Clemans, DVM
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is very
similar to the virus that causes AIDS in humans.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and FIV
belong to the same class, the lentiviruses.
However, the virus seen in cats is in no way
transmissible to humans or dogs. FIV occurs
worldwide, but is more prevalent in certain
FIV is shed in the saliva of infected cats, so the
disease is spread through bite wounds. The
disease is seen more often in un-neutered stray
or feral male cats, since fighting is more common
among these cats. Transmission can also occur from an infected mother to her kittens,
either while in the womb or through ingestion of milk during nursing.
A simple blood test called ELISA is used to diagnose FIV, and this test can be done in
most veterinary clinics or hospitals. However, cats can test positive for FIV on the ELISA
test (because they are carrying antibodies to the virus), but not actually be carrying the
virus, so cats should be retested with the Western Blot test.
Cats who test positive for FIV can show many different symptoms. They are more
susceptible to a variety of infections of the skin, respiratory tract, urinary tract, eyes, ears
and mouth. Sometimes these infections can be difficult to treat and can reoccur despite
treatment. FIV-positive cats can also become anemic and can potentially develop certain
types of cancer.
Although there is no specific treatment for FIV, infected cats can live long and healthy
lives. It is important to keep these cats up-to-date on vaccinations, feed them a high-
quality diet, and seek veterinary treatment at the first sign of illness. Since the disease is
spread by bite wounds, you can safely keep an FIV-positive cat with FIV-negative cats
if the cats get along well together. However, careful monitoring of the cats’ behavior and
minimizing the likelihood of fights is recommended. Spaying and neutering of stray or