Just like a baby, new pets need to get a few shots and tests done to make sure they’re healthy. For cats, one of those is the FIV test — and just like humans, it’s quite possible for felines with this autoimmune disease to live a healthy life.
Feline immunodeficiency virus — or FIV — positive cats can have shorter lifespans than other cats, but most will live eight to 10 years if they are raised in an indoor, healthy environment, said Aaron Caldwell, head veterinary technician at The Cat Clinic in Roswell, Georgia.
“Cats don’t tend to typically die from FIV. A lot of times, it’s the same with people, where it’s not the HIV that kills them, but it’s the symptoms of other illnesses they get from having FIV because they have a compromised immune system,” he said.
Approximately 1.5 to 3 percent of healthy cats have FIV, according to the Feline Health Center at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Biting is the most common way it’s transmitted, so outdoor, aggressive male cats are most likely to be infected. FIV-positive females can transmit the virus to their kittens as well, and it is less common, but possible, to pass FIV on through sexual contact.
FIV reproduces in white blood cells called T-lymphocytes in the lymph nodes, and can result in poor coat condition, a loss of appetite, chronic infection and “slow but progressive weight loss, often followed by severe wasting.”
New pet owners should take their kittens in for a FIV test when they’re at least 8 weeks old, and then for a second test at 6 months. Caldwell recommends cats undergoing a regular yearly test after that.
To keep FIV from spreading, cats should be spayed or neutered, kept indoors and away from other cats — especially if the FIV-positive cat tends to be aggressive.
“There’s not really any treatment for it, just monitoring and managing it, keeping them from messing around with other cats,” Caldwell said.
There is a vaccine for FIV, but after a kitten or cat is vaccinated, she will always test positive for FIV, even if she doesn’t have the virus.
Regardless, Caldwell said a FIV-positive status is no reason not to adopt a furry feline.
“They should just because they could provide a better life for the cat,” he said.