FIV in Cats: What You Should Know

Krista Seraydar, DVM
By Krista Seraydar, DVM on Nov. 3, 2020

If you have ever been to an animal shelter or rescue, you have probably seen an adoptable cat labeled as FIV-positive. These cats are typically isolated from the other cats and need to go to homes with other FIV-positive cats or with no other cats.

So, what does FIV mean? And what does it mean for a cat to FIV-positive?

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about FIV in cats—from symptoms and stages to treatment and care.

Jump to a specific section here:

What Is FIV in Cats (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus)?

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a virus that’s found in domestic cats that attacks the immune system. FIV leads to increased susceptibility to infections and other disease.

Is Feline AIDS the Same as FIV in Cats?

FIV is the virus that causes and can eventually progress to feline acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), usually years after initial infection.

How Do Cats Get FIV?

The most common way that FIV spreads among cats is through biting.

The saliva of an FIV-positive cat contains the virus, so it can spread to another cat through a bite wound.

The most frequently infected cats are typically aggressive male cats that are allowed to freely roam.

Another way that FIV can spread is from a mother cat to her kittens, although it is very rare. This can happen either during pregnancy, birth, or nursing.

Is FIV Contagious to Other Cats?

The risk of transmission between friendly household cats that stay indoors is low.

But it can be spread through biting, so FIV-positive cats should be kept indoors where they cannot infect others. Cats that don’t have FIV can stay protected if you keep them inside as well.

Although the risk of transmission through social/friendly contact is low, it is not impossible. Ideally, infected cats should be kept separate from uninfected cats to eliminate the risk of transmission.

If this is not possible, remember that transmission is less likely between cats in a stable household (the cats do not fight, there’s no introduction of a new cat, etc.).

What Are the Symptoms of FIV in Cats?

Since FIV affects a cat’s immune system, symptoms will only appear once the cat has contracted a secondary infection.

Here are a few signs that FIV might be an underlying issue:

What Are the Stages of FIV in Cats?

There are a few different stages of FIV in cats. Here’s what to expect in each stage.

Acute Phase

The acute phase occurs after initial infection. Some cats will experience lethargy, fever, or lymph node enlargement. This stage lasts one to three months.

Latent Infection

The latent infection period has no symptoms and can last months to years. Many cats will not progress beyond this stage.

Feline Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (Feline AIDS)

If a cat reaches this phase of infection, they become immunocompromised and are susceptible to secondary disease. This usually occurs years after initial infection. Feline AIDS symptoms are those that are related to secondary infections.

Terminal Phase

Once a cat reaches the terminal phase, the prognosis is approximately two to three months. During this time, it’s common to see severe infections, cancer, neurologic disease, immune-mediated disease, etc.

Can FIV in Cats be Cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for FIV in cats, but there are treatment options that can help your FIV-positive cat live a healthy life.

How Do You Treat FIV in Cats?

The mainstay of FIV treatment in cats includes treating and preventing secondary infections or disease.

Immunosuppressive drugs and steroids should be avoided.

Some antiviral medications have been shown to help FIV-positive cats with seizures or stomatitis (inflammation of the mouth), but they have not been shown to prolong a cat’s life span or reduce the infection rate or severity.

You can help keep your FIV-positive cat healthy by:

  • Using routine parasite control

  • Feeding a complete and balanced diet

  • Visiting the veterinarian every six months for routine exams and bloodwork

Please avoid raw diets, as they can cause illness in immunocompromised animals.

Do Cats Die From FIV?

While FIV itself does not typically result in death itself, it does cause increased susceptibility to diseases that can sometimes be fatal, especially in cases where the virus has progressed to feline AIDS.

FIV-positive cats that become clinical for the disease usually succumb to secondary infection, cancer, or immune-mediated disease.

What's the Life Expectancy for Cats With FIV?

Cats with FIV can have a normal lifespan with excellent quality of life; however, because they are more susceptible to disease, severe illness can lead to a worse prognosis.

Is There an FIV Vaccine for Cats?

There is a vaccine that can help provide protection against FIV; however, it is not always completely effective. Vaccination will also lead to false positive results, so it is important to know a cat’s vaccine history prior to testing for FIV antibodies.

How Do You Prevent FIV in Cats?

The best way to prevent FIV in cats is to prevent exposure by:

  • Keeping your cat indoors

  • Spaying or neutering your cat

  • Keeping your cat separated from FIV-positive cats

Featured Image:

Krista Seraydar, DVM


Krista Seraydar, DVM


Dr. Krista Seraydar was born and raised in South Florida. She is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine...

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health