FIV – Not A Death Sentence

posted September 21st, 2013 by
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by Camille Hulen

The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a retrovirus in the same family as human HIV, but it cannot be transmitted to humans. FIV can live in many different tissues in cats, and typically causes a weakening of the cat’s immune system.

FIV positive cats are more prone to getting infections such as upper respiratory, skin, and bladder infections, along with dental disease. There are no specific signs of FIV, and a cat may not show any symptoms for years, so the only way to determine it is through a blood test.

A positive result from an FIV test can have a devastating effect on a cat owner. There is much misinformation about this disease; so much, in fact, that many consider it a death sentence. The purpose of this article is to dispel that myth.

The most common test is the SNAP test, performed by your veterinarian to look for antibodies to FIV. An initial positive result is usually followed up by a more extensive laboratory Blot test. It should be noted that tests on kittens under 6 months of age frequently result in false positive results and should be deemed unreliable. Antibodies from an infected mother may have been spread to the kitten in utero or via milk, but they may go away with time.

It is estimated that perhaps 2 percent of cats in the United States are infected with the virus. FIV is mainly passed from cat to cat through deep bite wounds, the kind that occur outdoors among intact males fighting to defend territory. It is very unlikely to be spread by sharing food bowls or litter boxes, by casual contact or by grooming.

There is no way to rid the cat of FIV, but FIV positive cats can lead normal lives both in quality and duration. They should be monitored with careful veterinary care to treat any secondary infections. Unfortunately, most rescue organizations will euthanize FIV positive cats, because people are hesitant to adopt a “sick” kitty. This is not necessary, as you will see in the following stories.

Cheryl in Oklahoma City has helped many FIV victims. Big White Cat (BWC) is just one of them. He was the neighborhood tom. He was at least 10 years old and showed up on a neighbor’s doorstep, looking rough and feeling worse: dirty, matted, stinky with fleas, ear mites and bad teeth.

Following treatment and neutering at the vet—and a bath which he enjoyed— he immediately relaxed indoors with the comforting sleep of rescue. He was adopted by his foster mom and now enjoys life as an indoor kitty, getting along fine with her dogs and another cat.

Bobby, a stunning bull’s-eye Tabby, was also a neighborhood stray. Jane and John fed him for months but could not get near him. Finally, he would let Jane approach as he ate. Then one day, he showed up with an injured eye; plus, it was cold outside. Trapping was the only option. After his treatment at the vet, he lived inside in a cage while Jane and John gained his trust. Eventually he became a wonderful loving pet, sharing many hours on the lap of John as he watched T.V. Bobby is gone now, but would Jane and John give up the two plus years of love that they shared with Bobby? I think not.

Another story comes from Angela. “FIV kitties are great; I have one!” she says. “My vet feels that FIV has been around much longer than we have had a name to place on the condition, and that many cats over the years have lived out a seemingly normal life while having FIV, and no one [knew] any different.

“Not to say we should dismiss the condition or allow conditions that would enable it to spread, but after my panic when I got the diagnosis on Murphy, I thought it was a death sentence for him. I spent a lot of time researching it and found FIV positive cats can live successfully with other cats and not share the condition. I have found this to be true, as Murphy lives with two other cats that have not contracted FIV. Hopefully, these guys can continue to hang out together for the rest of their lives.”

Sisco’s story is a little different because he is still waiting for his forever home. Sisco is an affectionate guy with a big purr, currently in foster care. He was an indoor/outdoor kitty that adopted a little orange kitten, Alfred, showing him the ways of the world, leading him around and grooming him, then inviting him in.

Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, Sisco and Alfred were later turned outside. Sisco was easily captured, and it was at that point that he was diagnosed as FIV positive. Alfred the kitten was more elusive, but when Alfred was found, Sisco welcomed him with kitty hugs and grooming, as if to say, “Where have you been, Buddy?” They are pals for life; all they now need is a home.

Stories of FIV cats abound. Best Friends Animal Society in Utah has a wing devoted to them, and even the official greeter at Best Friends is FIV positive! They are strong advocates for saving all lives, as is Dr. Janet M. Scarlett of Cornell University. To quote Dr. Scarlett, “There is no disease or condition of companion animals that takes more of their lives than euthanasia.” Some food for thought.

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