FIV or Feline AIDS in Cats

10 min read



Unless your cat is severely dehydrated, he or she will be treated on an outpatient basis.


Your veterinarian will first work to manage any secondary infections. While this concurrent infection will not usually cause disease, your cat’s weakened immune system will give it entrée and they will cause further complications in your cat’s overall health.


Surgery may be necessary for dealing with infected teeth and for the removal of tumors. A special diet plan may also need to be put into place.


Living and Management


How much monitoring your cat will need from you depends on secondary infections and other manifestations of the disease.


You will need to watch for the occurrence of infections in your sick cat, and be aware that wasting, or severe weight loss may occur, and that your pet may eventually die of this disease. But, in general, the earlier FIV is detected, the better your cat’s chances are for living a long and relatively healthy life.


“Within 4.5 to 6 years after the time of infections, about 20 percent of cats die; however, over 50 percent will remain without clinical signs of the disease.” (4) In the late stages of the disease, when wasting and frequent infections are most likely to occur, life expectancy is less than a year. Specifically, inflammation of the gums and mouth may not respond to treatment or may be difficult to treat.




In order to prevent this disease from occurring in the first place, you should vaccinate your cat against the virus, and protect your cat from coming into contact with cats that are FIV positive. You will also want to quarantine and test new cats that are coming into your household until you are sure that they are free of the virus. “It is important to note that some cats will test positive for FIV if they are carriers, although they may never have symptoms of the virus, and that cats that have been vaccinated against the virus will test positive for it even though they do not carry it.” (5)


“Euthanasia is not normally called for when a cat has tested positive in part because of these reasons.” (6) If your cat has tested positive you will need to talk to your veterinarian about what to do to prevent possible transmission to other cats, and what symptoms to be watchful for, should they occur.




To answer some of the most frequently asked questions about FIV, we consulted with Dr. Niels Pedersen of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Virginia Corrigan, DVM of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; and Richard Meadows, DVM, DABVP of the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine. 


1. Is there a vaccine for FIV?


"There is a vaccine for FIV, but it is considered a non-core vaccine for cats. It may provide some protection against FIV for cats at high risk of exposure, however its use is controversial and it is generally not recommended," explains Virginia Corrigan, DVM. "Another issue with vaccination is that a vaccinated cat will test positive for FIV, and the antibodies produced from the vaccine cannot be distinguished from natural infection. Therefore, if the veterinarian or owner is not aware that the cat has been vaccinated in the past, an incorrect diagnosis of FIV infection may be made."


Dr. Pendersen adds, "Even if we assume that it is effective, there is really not much of a reason to use it on pet cats. The infection is transmitted between males mainly by territorial aggression, and for that reason the highest risk cats are intact males living in more dense outdoor environments where there is a lot of competition for food and females."


2. What’s the best way to prevent a cat from getting FIV?


"The virus is present in the saliva of infected cats, so FIV is usually transmitted between cats through bite wounds. It can also be transmitted via sustained contact with an infected cat or from an infected mother cat to her kitten. All cats should be tested for FIV when they are kittens and after any exposure to a potentially infected cat, particularly if there was a bite wound.  Cats that are FIV-positive should be kept inside and separate from non-positive cats. Cats that go outdoors and come in contact with other cats outside are at the highest risk," Corrigan says.


One of the best routes for prevention, Richard Meadows, DVM, suggests, "Spaying and neutering cats decreases fighting behavior and preventing access to FIV positive cats."


3. What are the physical and emotional changes that happen to a cat that has FIV?


Put simply, by Corrigan, "Most infected cats are asymptomatic and feel well. They can live a normal life and have a normal life expectancy. However, they are more prone to developing secondary infections and certain types of cancer."  Meadows adds, “FIV should not be looked at as a death sentence since many cats with FIV can live apparently healthy and happy lives for years. Over time the FIV infection does progressively suppress the immune system and this will result in physical decline (weight loss, secondary infections, neurological problems, etc)."


"Cats are rarely seen in the acute stage of the disease, where you might observe fever, enlarged lymph nodes, vasculitis, and white blood cell changes,” Pendersen explains, “More often the acute stage of infection goes unnoticed and it is many months or years later that the more common signs of the chronic infection occur. Signs of immunodeficiency often include chronic oral and nasal infections, skin infections, and intestinal infections.  Some FIV infected cats develop chronic neurologic disease, often manifested by vague changes in behavior."

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