Feline Immunodeficiency Virus


Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a cat specific retrovirus, being in the same family of viruses similar to infection in humans (Human Immunodeficiency Virus – HIV). FIV (belonging to the Lentiviruses subfamily) causes compromise to a cat’s immune system, which results in infected cats not being able to fight off various infections.


FIV prevalence is 1.9% overall and higher in cats with access to outdoor at 4.3%. High risk/ high incidence situations include free –roaming outdoor pet or stray cats, cats exposed to outdoor cats, and cats living in multi-cat households that frequently introduce new cats.
FIV affects cats of all ages; the incidence is increasing with age. Because of an extended asymptomatic latent period that is typical for lentiviruses, most FIV-infected cats that have clinical signs are older than 6 years.

How do cats catch FIV?

The virus is shed in the blood, saliva and other body fluids of infected cats. Is transmitted primarily through direct bite wound inoculation during territorial fights (hence the higher incidence in free-roaming males –males cats outnumber females 3 to 1).
Transmission through intimate contact during cohabitation is unlikely but not impossible. Acute and chronically infected cats( females) may transmit FIV to kittens in utero (congenital infection) and through contaminated milk (lactogenic infection)

What are the clinical signs?

  • ACUTE PRIMARY STAGE OF INFECTION: beginning at 4-6weeks post-exposure, going unnoticed. The effects and manifestations are transient including fever, neutropenia, lymphopenia and enlarged lymph nodes.
  • ASYMPTOMATIC STAGE OF INFECTION: is a prolonged latency period that may persist for years before signs of immunodeficiency occur.
  • CHRONIC TERMINAL STAGE OF INFECTION: is characterized by an acquired immunodeficiency syndrome that leads to chronic recurrent opportunistic infections- bacterial infections that may involve oral cavity ( stomatitis, gingivitis, periodontitis); skin ( pustular dermatitis, abscesses, purulent otitis); respiratory system ( rhinitis, pneumonia, pyothorax); intestines ( enterocolitis, diarrhea); urinary tract ( cystitis, pyelonephritis).
  • Other manifestations: recurrent fever, progressive weight loss, lymph O adenomegaly ( enlarged lymph nodes), immune-mediated diseases. Infected cats with FIV have an increased risk for neoplasia ( e.g. lymphomas, carcinomas).
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

How do I test my cat?

FIV infection is usually diagnosed through blood testing via a test known as ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosuppressant assay), which detects antibodies to FIV.
The use of a rapid-result test called a SNAP test to diagnose FIV infection has become more common. The SNAP test is very accurate, can be performed in our clinic using a minuscule amount of blood, and takes only a few minutes to complete.
Can my veterinarian treat my cat for FIV?
There’s currently no reliable treatment to cure Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. However, asymptomatic cats can live for years before developing signs, and symptomatic cats can be managed for months with supportive care and symptomatic treatment. Depending on the symptoms, this treatment may involve:

  • Antibiotics/anti-inflammatory drugs as appropriate for to fight recurring secondary infections
  • Medicines which support the immune system in its anti-viral activity
  • Immune modulator therapy

The only sure way to protect cats is to prevent their exposure to the virus. Cat bites are the most common way through which infection transmits, so keeping cats indoors and away from potentially infected cats with whom they fight markedly reduces the likelihood of them contracting FIV infection.

How should FIV-infected cats be managed?
FIV-infected cats should be confined indoors to prevent the spread of FIV infection to other cats in the neighborhood and to reduce their exposure to infectious agents carried by other animals. Infection with FIV is not a valid reason alone to euthanize a cat. Many FIV positive cats lead normal, healthy lives. These cats ultimately die of unrelated causes. FIV positive cats live for many years before their immune systems are clinically affected, and therefore FIV positive isn’t a good reason to euthanize a cat. KEEP the FIV positive cats INDOOR. If stray cats, however, are in for castration or sterilisation and show visible signs of regular engagement in fights, poor health, e.o. and they test positive for FIV; the rescue organisations might have a valid reason to decide opposite.

When should FIV testing be performed?

  • If your cat has never been tested.
  • If your cat is sick, even if it tested free of infection in the past but subsequent exposure can’t be ruled out.
  • When cats are newly adopted, whether or not they will be entering a household with other cats.
  • If your cat has recently been exposed to an infected cat.
  • If your cat is exposed to cats that may be infected (for example, if your cat goes outdoors unsupervised or lives with other cats that might be infected)