Caring for FIV cats

Caring for FIV cats

We currently have a FIV+ cat in our care and we realize that his foster process will be longer than most because so many of us know nothing about FIV. We instantly assume it’s a terribly bad disease that is spread like wildfire. That is not the case. We are not experts but we do choose to investigate a situation as much as possible, especially when something like this happens.

Our cool cat, Norbert, tested positive for FIV. The vet stated that his immune system will be compromised but other than his current testing positive for FIV, he had nothing wrong with him – a common cat cold that needed some clavamox. Foster mom took to research. She wanted to make sure she was educated before she had a make a really big decision. What she found was quite surprising. Now it’s our goal to share our research.

Visit Norbert’s profile:

What is FIV?
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) may not show symptoms until years after the initial infection. The virus is slow-acting, but the immune system of the cat will continue to be weak once the disease takes hold. This means the cat will be susceptible to various infections. However, this does not mean the cat needs to be euthanized. If the cat is provided with proper care, indoor cats can live comfortable lives for months to years before the disease is seen as chronic.

What are the symptoms?
Remember, an FIV+ cat may not show symptoms for many years. Once symptoms do develop, they may continually progress. A cat can show signs of FIV as well as other illnesses within their health for many years. Without proper treatment, the secondary infections that can occur as a consequence of FIV can progress to life-threatening conditions. Additionally, cats with FIV can develop various forms of cancer, blood diseases or kidney failure, which can claim the cat’s life. Please, see a veterinarian no matter the circumstances to complete a FIV test:

  • 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)
  • 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 is FIV transmitted?
FIV will be passed from cat to cat through deep bite wounds. This is the single most common method of transfer. Think of an aggressive fight or territorial disputes that show battle wounds of another animal — that’s the type of deep bite wounds we’re talking about. This is a great reason to keep your cat inside. Another less common mode of transmission is from a FIV+ mother cat to her kittens. FIV does not seem to be commonly spread through sharing food bowls and litter boxes, social grooming, sneezing, and other casual modes of contact. It is extremely unlikely, if not impossible, for cats to get FIV from just being around infected cats or from a person touching a FIV-positive cat and then touching a FIV-negative cat. Although any cat is susceptible, free-roaming intact male outdoor cats who fight, frequently contact the disease. Please note:  FIV cannot be transmitted from cat to human, only from cat to cat.

How is FIV diagnosed?
FIV Is routinely diagnosed by looking for antibodies of the virus in the blood through a blood test. Also note, no test is 100% accurate and the veterinarian will interpret the test result to decide if further testing is needed. Since mother cats can transfer the FIV antibodies to her kittens, the kittens will test positive from their mothers antibodies until they have cleared from their system. This can happen by six months of age. If a kitten is tested at a younger age than six months, they should undergo testing at a later date.

How is FIV treated?
There is no specific antiviral treatment for FIV. Cats can carry it for many years before the symptoms appear. Treatment will focus on extending the asymptomatic period or easing secondary effects of the virus. Medican can be subscribed for secondary infections and immune booster medication can be given, daily.

What does the care look like for an FIV+ cat?
Watch for changes, even minor changes, in behiavor and report health concerns to a vetrinarian. Bring the FIV+ cat the vet at least two times per year for a checkup, blood count, and urine testing. Feed your FIV+ cat a nutritionally balanced diet – no raw food (bacteria and other parasites can be dangerous to compromised immune systems). Always, always, always spay and neuter your pets. An FIV-positive cat can live with other FIV-negative cats if the cats are not considered fighters. FIV+ cats can live a long and healthy life if they are given the proper care.


We also looked at consultation and contacted several rescues that were FIV specific. Meaning, they specialized in the care of FIV cats. Below is a copy of the email we received back from FIV Cat Rescue located in Fort Bragg, NC. Website:

Thank you for your email about your new foster cat.  The good news is that FIV is really no big deal. Most FIV cats live long, healthy, happy lives when given a home with good care — the same kind of care you give to your other NON-FIV cats. 

The average life span of FIV cats and Non-FIV cats is between 13-18 years for indoors only and 3-8 years for outdoor cats.

Basic Facts:
FIV is a lentivirus, which is a s-l-o-w virus that affects may not affect a cat’s immune system for years and most often never does.
Most FIV cats die of old age diseases just like Non-FIV cats.
FIV is a cat-only virus and cannot be spread to humans or other non-felines.
FIV cats most often live long, healthy, and relatively normal lives with no symptoms at all.
FIV is not easily passed between cats. It can not be spread casually – like in litter boxes, water and food bowls, grooming, mock fighting, snuggling. It is not passed by scratches nor even sneezes.
It is rare for a kitten to get FIV from their mom. Some, inherit their mom’s antibodies to FIV which go away after they are 6 months old. Which means they never had FIV to begin with.
The virus can be spread through blood transfusions, or serious, penetrating bite wounds. (Bite wounds of this kind are extremely rare, except in free-roaming, un-neutered tomcats.)
Neutered FIV and Non-FIV cats can live together, as long as they are all non-aggressive. That simply means they need to be properly introduced.
Many vets are not educated about FIV and blame every little illness on FIV when all cats simply get sick from time to time, just like humans.

There are really no special requirements. FIV cats have the exact same needs as Non-FIV cat. They need good food, vet care, safe environment and love. As with all cats, they are safer and live long as indoor only or in outdoor safely enclosed areas.

All cats — FIV and Non-FIV — should only be with other non-aggressive cats. All cats should be kept as healthy as possible: Keep them indoors, keep stress levels down (all cats are simply hypersensitive), feed them a high-quality diet, treat any secondary problems as soon as they arise. Have regular yearly (or twice-a-year) vet exams.

The latest studies shows that FIV does NOT affect a cat’s lifespan. See How long do FIV-infected cats live? December 15, 2015 – Blog Categories: Shelter Medicine

Thank you for your big heart in fostering this cat and for doing your research to ensure you understand FIV. Let me know if you have any other questions.

Norbert will continue to stay with the rescue until he is adopted. He’s so cuddly and has become foster mom’s cuddle buddy, at basically all times of the day. His favorite is trampling her as she crawls into bed because he doesn’t give her a chance to get comfortable before the purrs start. We encourage adopting families to do their research and maybe they can open their hearts to Norbert or a cat like him.


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