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FIV or Feline AIDS in Cats

By: Aly Semigran


Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Infection (FIV) in Cats


The feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection is a complex retrovirus that causes immunodeficiency disease in domestic cats.


Immunodeficiency is the medical term used to describe the body’s inability to develop a normal immune response.  As a result of immunodeficiency, most infected cats do not show symptoms and have normal life expectancy, however they are prone to developing other infections and certain types of cancer.


A retrovirus, such as FIV, inserts a copy of its genetic material into the DNA of a host cell, where it can replicate. FIV is a lentivirus. a specific type of retrovirus that  can take months, or even years to incubate, so the virus is slow moving, capable of lying dormant in the body before causing symptoms. “It is in the same class of viruses as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the causative agent of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in people.” (1)


There is no genetic susceptibility for infection, although genetics may play a role in the progression and severity of the disease. The average age is five years at the time of diagnosis, and the likelihood of infection increases with age. “FIV is a transmissible disease that occurs more often in males because of their tendency to be more aggressive, and because they are more likely to roam, thereby increasing their exposure to the virus.” (2)




  • Diverse symptoms owing to the decreased ability to develop a normal immune response. Associated immunodeficiencies cannot be distinguished clinically from feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • Recurrent minor illnesses, especially with upper respiratory and gastrointestinal signs
  • Mild to moderately enlarged lymph nodes
  • Inflammation of the gums of the mouth and/or the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth is seen in 25 percent to 50 percent of cases
  • Upper respiratory tract disease is seen in 30 percent of cases - inflammation of the nose; inflammation of the moist tissues of the eye; inflammation of the cornea (the clear part of the eye, located in the front of the eyeball); often associated with feline herpes virus and calicivirus infections
  • Eye disease - inflammation of the front part of the eye, including the iris; disease of the eye in which the pressure within the eye is increased (glaucoma)
  • Long-term (chronic) kidney insufficiency
  • Persistent diarrhea seen in 10 percent to 20 percent of cases
  • Long-term, nonresponsive, or recurrent infections of the external ear and skin resulting from bacterial or fungal infections
  • Fever and wasting - especially in later stage
  • Cancer (such as lymphoma, a type of cancer that develops from lymphoid tissue, including lymphocytes, a type of white-blood cell formed in lymphatic tissues throughout the body)
  • Nervous system abnormalities - disruption of normal sleep patterns; behavioral changes (such as pacing and aggression); changes in vision and hearing; disorders usually affecting the nerves in the legs and paws.




  • "Cat-to-cat transmission; usually through bite wounds and scratches" (3)
  • Occasional transmission of the virus at the time of birth
  • Sexual transmission is uncommon, although FIV has been detected in semen




Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your cat, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. Your doctor will need to rule out bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, and will also test for parasites and tumors before settling on a final diagnosis.


A complete blood profile will be conducted, including:


  • a chemical blood profile
  • a complete blood count
  • and a urinalysis.


Your doctor will need to rule out bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, and will also test for parasites and tumors before settling on a final diagnosis.



Comments  4

Leave Comment
  • Neutering prevents FIV
    06/23/2015 10:17pm

    I don't agree that keeping a cat indoors is the only way to prevent FIV. Neutering a male cat lessens its risk of fighting with other cats and so greatly reduces the risk of it catching FIV. Female cats also have reduced risk when they are neutered because they are not sexually attractive to the male. Although FIV is not sexually transmitted when mating takes place a male cat holds onto the female's neck with his teeth and sometimes the teeth puncture the skin which provides an opportunity for FIV infection. So I believe the primary way to reduce the risk of FIV infection is to neuter male and female cats.
    I think it is unnatural and unkind to keep a cat indoors permanently. Its a cat's natural behaviour to roam, climb and explore. They should have the freedom to express normal behaviour. Although indoors can be adapted its never the same as the outdoors and owners do not always provide opportunities for natural behaviour and its very stressful for the cat to live in a human only environment with no escape.

  • 10/10/2016 04:13am

    I SO agree with this statement. Not only the cat is stressed, the cat caretaker is stressed as well.

  • Love my FIV+ Cats!
    09/24/2015 02:07am

    I have taken in way more cats than a normal person, with most of them coming to me feral. Everyone gets the same treatment: befriended or captured; examined by the vet; tested for FeLuk and FIV; vaccinated for rabies, distemper, bordetella, and FeLuk and FIV (depending on the results of the blood test); fecal tested for parasites; microchipped; and spayed/neutered. Some experience worth sharing:
    1. Some of my cats are FIV+, and they have lived many years with good health. Testing positive for FIV is NOT a justifiable reason for killing your cat. 2. The cats that tested FIV negative are vaccinated yearly for FIV. Because they got (and continue to get) this vaccination, they will now test positive for FIV. In order to protect them in the event that they get out of the house and someone else captures them or in the event that I die before they do and they go to live with new "parents", all of my cats are microchipped, and their microchip records include the fact that the cats who originally tested negative for FIV have been vaccinated for FIV. In addition to my contact information, the microchip records also include our vet's contact information (who can confirm the vaccination as well as other medical history). 3. Neutering and socialization have transformed the formerly aggressive tomcats into loveboys and are the reasons that fighting is no longer on their daily agenda. 4. All of my cats (FIV positive and FIV negative) live together in the house -- they share beds, water bowls, food bowls, and litter boxes, and they groom each other. None of my cats who tested negative for FIV have shown any symptoms of becoming infected with FIV, even after years of living with their FIV+ housemates. In sum, I've got no regrets about my FIV+ cats -- Instead, I've gotten only years of love, with more to come.

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