Myths about Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Jul 28, 2017

If you know me, you know that I love my two black cats, Bergen and Nollee. Many people are surprised to hear that one of my cats has FIV and the other does not. Is it safe to have my two cats live together? Am I worried about the health of my cat that has FIV? There are a lot of misconceptions about this disease, which invites this discussion to hopefully debunk some of these common myths.
First, just some information on FIV: FIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, similar to HIV in people. About 1-3% of cats in the United States are affected. FIV is diagnosed by a blood test. If your cat tests positive, then a confirmatory test can be performed.

Myth#1: Your cat can get FIV by casual contact with another FIV cat.
False! FIV is only transferable through deep bite wounds. It is not transferrable by sharing water bowls, grooming or common contact with shared surfaces.

Myth #2: FIV cats cannot live with other uninfected cats.
False! As long as the cats are in a stable environment and have no risk of fighting it has been proven safe for infected and non-infected cats to live together. In a 2012 study performed by Purdue University’s veterinary school, they followed 138 cats in mixed households of infected and non -infected cats. They found that there was no transmission to the non-infected cats!

Myth #3: If my cat has FIV they are going to die at a young age.
False! Although FIV cats are at a higher risk for developing illness, many of them live very long lives just as long as a non-infected cat.  There is a high incidence of cats that never develop clinical signs from being infected with FIV.

Multiple studies have been conducted which sought to observe the life expectancy of FIV cats compared to non-infected cats. A 2010 Canadian study in which researchers compared the lifetimes of 39 FIV positive cats with those of 22 FIV negative cats found that there was no difference in survival time among the 2 groups. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends that FIV positive cats have physical exams every 6 months and lab work at least once a year. There is no reason that a FIV positive cat should not receive the same preventative care that a non-infected cat receives such as vaccinations, spaying/neutering, dental care, and flea/heartworm prevention.

Myth#4: My cat shows no signs of being sick, so I don’t need to test them for FIV.
False! Especially if your cat goes outside regularly, we recommend testing them for FIV at least annually, and any time they have a new wound. As mentioned above, most cats show no clinical signs of infection, and it can take years for any type of disease to develop. If your cat goes outside, they are at risk.

Myth #5: FIV positive cats should stay indoors only.
True! The majority of cats that we diagnose with FIV are cats that have spent time outdoors and gotten infected from another outdoor cat. It is very important that if your cat is infected that they no longer go outside, to prevent transmission to other cats.

Hopefully you learned some new things about this disease.  Although it is very important that we try to prevent transmission, it does not always mean these cats will live unhealthy short lives.  I bet you can’t tell which of my cats is the one with FIV below!

Andrea Babischkin, DVM