What is FIV?

FIV is a common, highly contagious and potentially fatal infection.  FIV is a virus similar to HIV.  While both diseases attack the immune system and reduce the ability to fight infection, FIV presents NO risk to people.  Cats that are infected with FIV may not show symptoms until years after the initial infection occurred. 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. Infected cats receiving supportive medical care and kept in a stress-free, indoor environment can live relatively comfortable lives for months to years before the disease reaches its chronic stages.

An FIV-infected cat may not show any symptoms for years. Once symptoms do develop, however, they may continually progress—or a cat may show signs of sickness interspersed with health for a long period of time. If your cat is demonstrating any of the following symptoms, please have your pet examined by your veterinarian:

  • 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 the litter box
  • Behavior change

FIV infection is transmitted from cat to cat primarily through fighting (biting and scratching).  FIV can also be spread from an FIV infected mother to her kitten.  Although any feline is susceptible, free-roaming, outdoor, intact males seem to most frequently contract the disease.  Cats who live indoors are least likely to be infected.

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 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.  Any recently adopted cat should be tested for FIV prior to entering your home.  A simple test can be run by your veterinarian to see if your cat has been infected.  Vaccinating against this disease is recommended to keep your pet healthy.

Unfortunately, there is no specific antiviral treatment for FIV. Cats can carry the virus for a long time before symptoms appear. Therefore, treatment focuses mainly on extending the asymptomatic period or, if symptoms have set in, on easing the secondary effects of the virus.


Information provided by ASPCA, The American Association of Feline Practitioners, PetMD, and Idexx Laboratories