What do you do when you’ve fallen in love with a cat that has FIV? Adopt him/her! These kitties can make wonderful pets. Don’t listen to all of the myths that are out there about FIV positive cats. Though this disease has been highly misunderstood (even by the veterinary community), new studies are beginning to clear things up!
In case you missed it, click here to learn the basics about Feline Immunodeficiency Virus .
Title Photo Credit: M. Boltersdorf via Flickr
Myth #1: The FIV virus is easily spread.
While this is a viral disease, it is not all that easy for a house cat to become infected by. FIV can NOT be spread in the following ways:
- Casual contact between an infected cat and a non-infected cat.
- Sharing food dishes or water bowls.
- Sharing litter boxes.
- Sharing toys.
- Mutual grooming between an infected cat and an uninfected cat.
- Sexual intercourse between an infected cat and an uninfected cat.
The virus is shed in an infected cat’s saliva and blood stream, but it lives only seconds after it leaves the body. It is killed by light, drying up (which happens quickly), heat, and common household cleaners.
The most common way that the virus is spread is when an infected cat bites a non-infected cat (a deep enough wound to draw blood). In this way, the virus (which is still alive in wet saliva) is injected directly into the bloodstream of the non-infected cat. On rare occasions, kittens born to an FIV positive mother cat will contract the virus from contact with her blood in the birth canal or through infected milk.
Contracting FIV through oral ingestion of the virus is highly unlikely (if not impossible).The mucous membrane of a cat’s mouth is a sufficient barrier to keep the virus from passing through to the blood stream. When swallowed, the acid of the stomach easily kills the virus.
Myth #2: FIV can spread to humans.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a retrovirus. This means that the virus reproduces by taking over cells of the animal it is infecting. The virus has a special kind of RNA ( a messenger that tells the DNA in a cell what needs to be done) that can trick the host cell’s DNA into making copies of the virus.
Due to the very specific nature of DNA, each type of retrovirus can infect only one species of animal. For FIV, that species is cats (even big cats like lions and tigers). However, there is a similar retrovirus that does infect humans called HIV – the virus that causes AIDS in humans. Cats can NOT contract HIV from humans, likewise, humans can NOT contract FIV from cats.
Myth #3: FIV positive cats can not live in the same house with uninfected cats.
This is a controversial subject in the veterinary world. The only way to be 100% sure that your cat will not contract FIV is to ensure that they don’t come in contact with the virus. Vaccines do exist, but that are not terribly effective and they will cause cats that do not have the virus to test positive for FIV for the rest of their lives.
On a more positive note, recent studies have found that FIV positive cats can live in the same home with uninfected cats without spreading the virus! There have been many successful examples of this in private homes and in animal shelters too. As long as the cats are spayed or neutered (territorial disputes are a bit reason to fight), slowly introduced to each other, and the cats are not known to fight, they can live together without transmitting the virus.
Myth #4: FIV and FeLV are different names for the same disease.
FIV and FeLV (Feline Leukemia) are different diseases that are commonly confused. This confusion tends to be due to the fact that both diseases are caused by retroviruses and both are not well-understood. Here are a few important difference:
- Cats with FIV can live mostly normal lives. Some even die of old age before the disease takes a hold of them.
Cats with FeLV are living longer with good veterinary treatment, but many will pass away within 3 years of infection.
- FIV is a relatively difficult disease to spread, but FeLV is very contagious. Cats with FeLV should never be in contact with uninfected cats.
- A cat with FIV may only have a few viruses present in the bloodstream, therefore, veterinarians tend to choose to use an antibody test (looking for the cat’s response to the infection) to diagnose the disease. A positive antibody test should always be followed up with other testing methods due to the number of false positives that occur. Cats with FeLV will have a large number of viruses present, so veterinarians tend to choose an antigen test (looking for the actual virus). This too should be followed up with other tests.
- FeLV is subclassified as a gamma-retrovirus, meaning it can only take over cells that reproduce fairly quickly. On the other hand, FIV is a lentivirus, which means it can invade cells that divide slowly (or when they aren’t dividing at all). Therefore, it develops much more slowly in the cat’s body.
- Symptoms that appear in a cat that has FeLV are often directly related to the virus. In a cat with FIV, symptoms that develop are those of secondary diseases contracted as a result of the cat’s weakened immune system.
Myth #5: FIV positive cats are sickly and thus, difficult and expensive to care for.
FIV can affect each cat differently. It is impossible to say how quickly the disease will develop or which (if any) opportunistic secondary diseases will take hold. Some cats live a normal lifespan despite the disease.
It is common for FIV positive cats to have no symptoms of the disease at all. If they are kept indoors, given a species appropriate diet, and proper veterinary care, there may be no difference between them and uninfected cats. If an FIV positive cat gets sick, they are treated the same way any other cat with the same sickness is treated. Depending on how far the disease has developed, treatment of secondary illnesses may take a little longer.
Have you ever been owned by an FIV positive cat?
Sources & Digging Deeper
- Dr. Becker Discusses Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) – Dr. Karen Becker, DVM
- Clinical Aspects of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus – Kartrin Hartmann
- The Truth About FIV and FeLV – Crash’s Landing
- Transmission of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) among cohabiting cats in two cat rescue shelters – Annette L. Litster