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  • Writer's pictureDorota Fraczek

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): Understanding the Silent Threat in Cats

Updated: Jan 18

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), a condition that is both underestimated and misunderstood. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of FIV, addressing its transmission, symptoms, diagnosis, management, and prevention.

What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)?

FIV is a lentivirus, similar to the human HIV, affecting cats worldwide. It primarily weakens the immune system, making cats susceptible to various secondary infections. However, FIV is species-specific and poses no risk to humans.

Transmission of FIV

FIV is typically transmitted through deep bite wounds, where the virus in the saliva of an infected cat enters the bloodstream of another cat. This mode of transmission means FIV is more common in male cats, outdoor cats, and those in multi-cat households due to increased likelihood of aggressive interactions. Contrary to some beliefs, FIV is not easily spread through casual contact, such as sharing food bowls or mutual grooming.

Symptoms of FIV

FIV progresses in stages, and initial infection may go unnoticed. In the acute phase, some cats exhibit mild symptoms like fever, lethargy, and swollen lymph nodes. The chronic stage can be symptom-free and last years. In the terminal phase, termed FIV-related complex, cats may exhibit various signs, including:

  • Persistent fever

  • Chronic infections (oral, skin, urinary, respiratory)

  • Weight loss and poor coat condition

  • Gastrointestinal disturbances

  • Neurological disorders

Diagnosis of FIV

Diagnosing FIV involves detecting antibodies against the virus in the blood. The most common test is the Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) performed in-clinic. Positive results should be confirmed with a Western blot or PCR test. It's important to note that kittens born to FIV-positive mothers may test positive for up to 6 months due to maternal antibodies, without actually being infected.

Management of FIV-Positive Cats

Currently, there is no cure for FIV, but infected cats can live normal lives for many years with proper management. Key aspects include:

  1. Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Biannual health evaluations are crucial to detect and treat secondary infections early.

  2. Maintaining Indoor Environments: Keeping FIV-positive cats indoors prevents the spread of the virus and reduces their exposure to infectious agents.

  3. Nutritional Support: A balanced diet, possibly supplemented with immune-boosting nutrients, can help maintain health.

  4. Prompt Infection Management: Immediate treatment of infections is vital due to the compromised immune system.

  5. Spaying/Neutering: This reduces the risk of transmission and aggressive behaviours.

Prevention of FIV

Prevention focuses on minimizing exposure risk. Key strategies include:

  • Keeping cats indoors: This reduces the risk of encounters with FIV-positive cats.

  • Test new cats: Before introducing a new cat into a multi-cat household, test for FIV.

  • Avoiding cat fights: Supervise outdoor cats to prevent aggressive interactions.

  • Vaccination: There is a vaccine for FIV, but its efficacy and implications for future testing (as it can cause positive test results) should be discussed with a veterinarian.


FIV is a significant health concern, but with informed care and management, FIV-positive cats can lead long, healthy lives. Awareness and preventive measures can help control the spread of this virus, ensuring the wellbeing of both affected and at-risk feline populations. As pet owners and veterinarians, our combined efforts can make a substantial difference in the lives of these graceful creatures.

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