FIV stands for feline immunodeficiency virus ( similar to HIV standing for human immunodeficiency virus). These two viruses are closely related, but people cannot become infected with FIV and cats cannot become infected with HIV.

cat that has FIV
Photo by Dr. Teri Ann Oursler
FIV behaves very similar to HIV. Luckily, for most cats, there is a long asymptomatic period before AIDS-like symptoms occur. Our goal, is to prolong this asymptomatic period.
A common question cat owners have, is how long does an FIV positive cat live? Life expectancy of the FIV+ cat veries:
– Approximately 18% die within 5 years of
– An additional 18% are still alive in that time
frame but are experiencing illness from their
immune-suppressed state. 
The other 64%, thankfully, appear normal with many going on to live long lives with illness noted very sporadically 

Diagnosing FIV

Most of the time FIV infection is discovered using a screening test performed the veterinarian’s office or as part of a larger panel performed at your veterinarian’s reference laboratory. Once a cat has been identified as positive by a screening test. If there is a question as to the validilty of the test, it can be repeated in-house on serum (whole blood can lead to weak false positives) or a follow-up confirming test called a Western Blot test is the next step. If the cat testing positive is a young kitten, it should be re-run after the kitten is 16 weeks of age and has cleared its maternal antibodies.

Frequency of testing

For an indoor-only cat that has tested negative at least twice, 6-12 months apart, so long as no new exposure to other cats occur, no further testing needs to be done. If this cat goes outside or spends time with a new cat whose FIV status is unknown, the cat should be retested.
Just as in people, when contact with blood or other bodily fluids occurs between cats, a negative individual can seroconvert to positive over a small span of time.
In a household with multiple cats, it is important to test all the cats when one cat comes up FIV+ as it is important to know who is infected and who is not. Cats that test negative should be tested annually as they are at higher risk for infection even though, it is generally considered unnecessary to isolate the negative and positive cats from each other unless fighting occurs as this increases the risk of blood/bodily fluid exchange.

False positives

It should be noted that giving the FIV vaccine (no longer being produced in the US and Canada) will cause a cat to test positive on both of the above tests. If a cat that has a history of being vaccinated against FIV, PCR testing can be used to distinguish an FIV-infected cat from an FIV-vaccinated cat.

How did my Cat get Infected?

The major route of virus transmission is by the deep bite wounds that occur during fighting. There are other means of spreading the virus but they are less common. Mother cats cannot readily infect their kittens (except in the initial stages of infection). FIV can be transmitted sexually and via improperly screened blood transfusions. Just as in people, casual contact such as sharing food bowls, or snuggling is highly unlikely to cause infection..

My Cat is FIV Positive. What do I do Now?

Some lifestyle changes will probably be needed now that you know you have an FIV+ cat.

Keep your Cat Indoors 

prevention for cats and FIV
Photo by Laura Hedden

Now that you know your cat has an infectious disease, the responsible thing is to prevent the spread of this disease in your community. This means that your cat will need to be an indoor cat. Cats who are used to living outdoors will make a fuss about being allowed outside. Do not give in as this will simply reinforce the behavior. Over time, it will likely cease and the cat will get used to the new indoor only life.

No Raw Foods

There are currently numerous fad diets involving raw foods for pets. It is crucial that one not succumb to these popular recommendations when it comes to the FIV+ cat. Uncooked foods, meats especially, can include parasites and pathogens that a cat with a normal immune system might be able to handle but an FIV+ cat might not. Stick to the major reputable cat food brands.


There is some controversy in regard to what is best for vaccinating an FIV+ cat. Studies are lacking and there is some evidence that vaccinating the FIV+ cat may encourage the virus to activate. It is improtant to realize, though, that this evidence involves cells cultured in test tubes. It is not studied well enough in the actual cat to know the answer.
Vaccinations such as Rabies, which is legally required should be given. But after proper immunization it can be given every 3 years. The same can be considered for FVRCP, although that is not a legal requirement. Your cat’s risk should also be considered, if in a multi-cat household or if feline leukemia virus is present, then vaccination should occur but as infrequently as needed for protection. Over vaccination should be avoided.
Similarly, if your cat goes outdoors despite the above recommendation, then you should continue to vaccinate your cat.

Parasite Control

The last thing an FIV+ cat needs is fleas, worms or mites, especially now that he or she is going to be an indoor cat. There are numerous products on the market for parasite control. Consult with your vet about which parasites you should be especially concerned with and which product is right for you.
If you have an FIV positive cat or a cat that is at risk for developing the disease, Urban Animal can help. Call us today and schedule an appointment.

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