eline Immunodeficiency Virus) and Adoptions
FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) is a widely misunderstood condition. Many people think that it’s easily spread, makes cats very sick, and that they have a lower life expectancy, so they are not often adopted. This is far from the truth!
FIV is a cat-only disease which cannot be transferred to humans or other animals.
FIV is not spread through casual contact such as shared food/water/litter, mutual grooming, or playing. It is most commonly spread through deep, vicious bite wounds typically inflicted by intact toms fighting on the streets over food, females, or territory. If a cat has been spayed or neutered, they are unlikely to fight in this manner, and if the population is stable (no serious fighting), FIV+ cats can live with non-infected cats.
The often heard "keep separate from other cats" is NOT valid. FIV cats can live communally with non-FIV cats with very little risk of the virus being transmitted between them - unless the cat is a fighter and gives another cat a serious bite, which is rare with properly introduced household cats. The vast majority of cats, once neutered, will not bite other cats they live with - they may play and scrap, but this rarely leads to the serious bite required to inject the virus. There are numerous examples of households with large numbers of cats living together with FIV-positive cats without the virus being transmitted. A slow and careful introduction is required when bringing any new cat into an existing household, especially so with an FIV cat.
How does this relate to kittens?
When queen cats (mom cats) nurse their babies, antibodies against diseases mom has encountered are passed to the kitten. This is true of all mammals (and why doctors recommend humans breast feed their children). For a period of time, those antibodies help keep kittens healthy. The problem is that the test for FIV (often called the SNAP test) looks for FIV antibodies in the kitten's blood, not the disease. The kitten can test positive for FIV when it has merely received the antibodies from mom's milk. Over the first six months of the kitten's life, the antibody titer gradually drops and the kitten will test negative at about half a year. In one study, 19 FIV+ kittens all tested negative by six months. (1)
It is recommended to retest your kitten at 60 day (2 month) intervals until they are 6 months old. In the rare event that the kitten remains positive after that, the kitten would then be considered to be infected with FIV.
What would that mean for the kitten's future?
Not much really.
It is a slow virus that affects the cat’s immune system over a period of years. The infected cat can fight off the infection and become totally immune, can become a carrier that never gets sick. At worst the cat will end up with a compromised immune system.
FIV+ cats can live as long and healthy a life as non-infected cats. This doesn’t mean they will never become ill; they are, after all immunocompromised, so illnesses can be easier to catch and harder to fight off. They have the same needs as any other cat: high quality diet, a clean, stress-free, strictly indoor environment, regular veterinary visits (two times per year), and lots of love. If they should become ill, they are generally treated earlier, longer, and more aggressively than non-immunocompromised cats (meaning they need to see the vet at the very first sign of illness and may be on a stronger medication or on medication for a longer period of time).
Articles about FIV cats and kittens