5 Facts About FIV

CatChannel and CAT FANCY veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM, discusses five important things to know about feline immunodeficiency virus.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Posted: August 10, 2012, 10 a.m. EST

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An FIV vaccine is available for cats.
Q: I'd like information on feline AIDS. I know it is contracted by bodily fluids, from cat to cat. Can people get it from a cat, too? Can a cat get it if another cat has been in my house that later is positive, although there has been no contact? Could it be in the carpet, etc.?

A:  Here are answers to your questions on the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV):
•    FIV is spread from cat to cat primarily by bite wounds. Casual contact, i.e. sharing food bowls, water bowls, litterboxes, mutual grooming, etc. is not believed to be risky for transmission.
•    FIV is species-specific; it affects cats only. Humans cannot contract the virus from an infected cat.
•    FIV cannot survive outside the body, in the carpet, etc. If an FIV positive cat has been in your apartment in the past, it poses absolutely no risk to any other cat that enters your apartment.
•    Outdoor cats who come into contact with other cats are at risk for contracting FIV. Free-roaming intact male cats are at the highest risk, as they are the most likely to get into territorial spats with other cats.
•    A vaccine is now available to protect cats against FIV. This vaccine confers good immunity, however, the vaccine will induce antibodies in the vaccinated cat. When a FIV test is run in the future, the cat will test positive, because the test detects antibodies in the bloodstream. If a vaccinated cat is tested for FIV and tests positive, there is no way to tell whether the antibodies that are detected are those that were induced by the vaccine, or by an actual FIV infection. (Actually, a test to distinguish between the two types of antibodies has been developed, but it is not widely available.)
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Reader Comments

Shirley    Tucson, AZ

11/8/2012 4:23:29 PM

Thank you.

Stephanie    Moon Twp, PA

9/1/2012 11:21:49 AM

There are five strains of FIV virus, called Clades. The vaccine was made using Clade A and D and tested using Clade A. Clade B, for example, is a very common strain in most regions of the U.S. and no testing of the vaccine has been performed thus far against Clade B. This means that pet owners might wrongly believe they were protecting their cat fully against the FIV virus with this vaccine.

The FIV vaccine is an adjuvanted vaccine. An adjuvant is an additive used with killed vaccines to improve their ability to stimulate the immune system. Unfortunately, adjuvanted vaccines have been implicated in the development of certain tumors in cats. (See more information on vaccine-associated sarcomas). Some veterinarians prefer not to use adjuvanted vaccines for cats and have no desire to administer a vaccine that stimulates tumor growth even under rare circumstances.

Vaccinated cats will test positive on all current methods of testing for the FIV virus. This means it will no longer be possible to distinguish vaccinated cats from truly infected cats. The vaccine is advertised as protecting 82% of cats, which means 18% can still be infected. This is nearly a one in five chance of unknowingly having an infected cat.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners does not recommend this vaccine for the above reasons. View their FIV Vaccine information.

MyKinKStar    North Central, FL

8/19/2012 2:32:49 PM

It is a shame the person asking the question, as well as others who have posted here, will not get to see what I have to say about FIV+ cats . . . Unfortunate and it should be noted to be included whenever this site is upgraded, so the community could interact and learn from each other.

My KittIE Bob is FIV+, living a happy and healthy life with my clutter of 7 cats - it was 9 cats last year, before I sent to of my old girls to heaven. Bob was a neighborhood Tom, who used to come around for a late night snack almost every night, but showed up one day all bloody from a brutal fight. FIV is contracted by bloody bites, usually Tom cats are victims because they fight over territory and/or kitty tail. I went to the house I'd been told was his owners, but they told me they didn't know him . . . I simply told them I was taking him to the vet and he would be mine and off we went.

The vet explained FIV to me, and said before any shots or stitches, he should be tested. When he came back with the positive results he stated it might be best to put Bob to sleep since there is no treatment for the disease, but I could not let him go out like that and opted to get him stitched up and fixed too while he was out. He came home and into the family the next day and we've been living great since. That was 2004 and here we are!

An FIV diagnosis is not a death sentence - as long any other cats in the family are all spayed or neutered; get along with having anything more serious than the occasional hissy fit; and everyone is healthy. Sickly cats are more of a danger to an FIV+ cat, than the other way around, because of their weakened immune system.

My Bob has a heart murmur, but otherwise is living the life. I feed the best food I can afford and he eats well everyday. There are times when he wants to stroll outside, but living in Florida where the flea season never ends, he is rarely out to stroll and if it happens I am right there with him so he doesn't go very far from home.

As far as the neighbor who owned Bob but didn't claim him in his time of need, they took great pleasure in telling people I stole their cat afterwards. IF they had protected Bob, by either keeping him safe inside and/or getting him fixed, then he would likely not have gotten FIV . . . If not for that disease though, he would have been living outside, without a home and a family.

Michalle    Portland, OR

8/18/2012 2:06:34 PM

It's good to know the facts about FIV. They can lead good lives with proper care. They deserve a chance in finding good homes.

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