What Does it Mean if Cats are FIV Positive?

Discover what an FIV-positive diagnosis means for your cat and the steps you can take to ensure a long and happy life for them.

Apr 8, 2023By Donna Hobson
what does it mean if cats are fiv positive

FIV, or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that affects cats and can cause a wide range of health issues. It is spread through saliva, bites, and other contact with an infected cat, and once contracted, it can be difficult to treat.

Still, FIV is not a death sentence, and many cats diagnosed with this virus lead long and happy lives. The most crucial factor is setting the proper care plan, so here's everything you need to know about FIV.

What Is FIV?

cute tabby cat face

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that can lead to serious health problems. FIV kills or damages cells, mainly white blood cells, which can cause a weakened immune system, making cats more susceptible to other illnesses and infections. In some cases, FIV can lead to organ damage or death.

The acronym FIV is often confused with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS in humans. Thus, cats infected with FIV are sometimes referred to as having "feline AIDS." While the two viruses are similar in some ways, they are not the same virus. For this reason, it is important to distinguish between FIV and HIV when discussing feline health issues.

How Do Cats Catch FIV?

cat fight on the grass

Cats can catch FIV when an infected cat bites them. The virus is most commonly spread through deep bites or saliva transfer from one infected cat to another. Cats that live in multi-cat households or have frequent contact with other cats are at a higher risk of catching FIV, mainly outdoor male cats who may get involved in fights over territory.

If a mother cat has FIV, she can pass the virus onto her kittens before they are born or while nursing. Getting all cats tested for FIV is vital to prevent the spread of the disease and keep your pet safe and healthy.

Ideally, FIV-positive cats are best suited to a single-cat household to help prevent the spread of the virus. Still, if you have a multi-cat home, there is no need to panic. It's rare for the virus to transmit via everyday feline interactions such as:

  • Food bowl sharing
  • Social grooming
  • Shared litter boxes

If one of your cats does test positive for FIV and you have any concerns, book an appointment with your vet, who can talk you through the best practices to keep all your cats safe and healthy.

What are the Symptoms of FIV?

kitten with teary eyes

Cat owners need to be aware of the symptoms of FIV to diagnose it early on and provide their pets with the proper treatment. Common symptoms of FIV include weight loss, fever, anemia, diarrhea, eye inflammation, respiratory infections, and skin lesions. If you notice any of the following signs in your cat or suspect they may have FIV, it is crucial to take them to the vet immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.

  • Recurring fever
  • Poor coat condition
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inflammation of the mouth and gums (gingivitis)
  • Persistent eye problems
  • Frequent infections of the eyes, respiratory tract, skin, or bladder
  • Constant vomiting or diarrhea
  • Behavioral changes
  • Seizures
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes

Is FIV Contagious to Humans?

cat paw holding human hand

FIV, or feline immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that affects cats (and only cats). While it is similar to HIV, it does not affect humans. FIV is spread through saliva and blood contact between cats and can lead to a weakened immune system and other health problems. Fortunately, FIV cannot be transferred from cats to humans, so it poses no risk of contagion for people.

What is the Treatment for FIV?

calico cat diet drinking water

Though there is no known cure for FIV, there are ways to manage the symptoms of the virus. Treatment options include lifestyle changes, dietary changes, and medications. Cats with FIV can lead happy and healthy lives by implementing these treatments.

There are several stages of FIV:

The acute phase occurs soon after a cat becomes infected. During this time, your cat may experience fever, lethargy, or enlargement of the lymph nodes, lasting approximately one to three months.

After the initial infection comes the latent period which can last several years. During this time, your cat will have little to no symptoms and can lead a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life. Some cats are lucky enough not to progress beyond this stage.

For other cats, this virus can progress, and their immune system is further compromised, making them far more susceptible to secondary disease. If this happens, your cat will eventually succumb to the terminal phase commonly characterized by the development of cancer, neurological disease, or immune-mediated disease.

Still, a diagnosis of FIV is no reason to euthanize your cat. With sufficient treatment, many FIV-positive cats can live perfectly happy and healthy lives for many years.

Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.