Demystifying the feline FIV-positive stigma

By Cindi Barker Cox, DVM
Boston —

For many potential cat adopters the words “FIV-positive” seem downright  scary; too scary, in fact, for many folks to bring an FIV+ cat into their  lives.

It is true that the Feline Immuno-Deficiency Virus, commonly known as FIV,  affects a cat’s immune system over a period of years — much like the Human  Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV) does in humans.

There are several very common misunderstandings about FIV that should be  clarified, however, so that potential adopters who fall in love with an FIV+ cat  can enjoy many years with their furry friend. The most important points to be  made about FIV are the following:

  • FIV is a “cat only” disease and cannot be transmitted to humans under any  circumstances
  • Most often, FIV+ cats live long, healthy and relatively symptom free  lives
  • FIV is not easily passed between cats. It cannot be transmitted casually  through shared litter boxes, water and food bowls, or when snuggling or playing.  It is also very rarely transmitted from a mother to her kittens

By clarifying the above misunderstandings potential adopters should feel  more comfortable in putting FIV+ cats on their adoptive “short list.” There are  other questions and concerns, however, that adopters may have and I’ll address  the ones I hear most frequently from visitors to the MSPCA-Angell Adoption  Center.

Just how is FIV transmitted? 

The virus is spread through blood transfusions, badly infected gums or — in  very rare cases — bite wounds. Unneutered male cats, because of their tendency  to roam and fight when allowed to be outside, are at higher risk for exposure  (and transmission) of the virus.

How do I ensure my other cat(s) are safe?

A neutered FIV+ cat who lives in a home, is extremely unlikely to pass the  virus on to FIV-negative cats in the home so long as they are properly  introduced. We have many cat adopters whose FIV+ cats live perfectly well with  their FIV- feline housemates.

How do I keep an FIV+ cat healthy?

FIV+ cats should be kept as healthy as possible — but my recommendations for  how to achieve this are the same for all cats, even those not exposed to the  virus.

FIV+ cats should be kept exclusively indoors, free from unnecessary stress  and fed a high-quality diet. Most importantly, any health issues that do arise — be it a dental issue, parasite infestation or common feline infections (e.g.,  infections of the urinary tract) should be dealt with as soon as possible by  bringing kitty to the vet.

Read more: Boston’s MSPCA: Demystifying the feline FIV-positive stigma – Roslindale, MA – West Roxbury Transcript

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