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Everything you need to know about FIV cats

two cats playing outside advice © Pixabay

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a cat disease that impairs a cat’s ability to fight off other illnesses. It is a serious, contagious illness, so FIV cats need to be kept indoors.

By G. John Cole

But an FIV cat can still lead a long life. People sometimes refer to FIV as feline AIDS or feline GIV. It has some things in common with HIV, but FIV is a distinct illness suffered only by cats.

Where does FIV come from?

FIV is a contagious disease. A cat can only catch it from another cat. This can happen through the spread of body fluids such as cat spit or blood. That’s why vets often associate FIV with cat fighting. And why they recommend you to neuter your cat, since catfights are often associated with the unneutered urge to roam, fight, and have sex. A kitten can also contract FIV from its mother.

What happens when a cat gets FIV?

FIV begins with a short and apparently minor illness. After that, things progress more slowly. Your cat’s immune system will begin to decline, although it might take years before you even notice. You’ll normally only discover a cat has FIV if it is screened for some other reason.

In fact, cats with FIV can lead a long life. But over the years, it will become more susceptible to other illnesses. These may include chronic respiratory infections and tumours.

Is there a cure for FIV?

Unfortunately there is no cure for FIV. If your cat contracts FIV, it will mean some major changes to how you and your cat go through life together. Your cat won’t be allowed outside any more, and you need to ensure it has a healthy and balanced diet. Raw food and dairy can contain bacteria or parasites, so no more cream for puss.

Because your cat will struggle to cope with other illnesses once it has FIV, you need to keep a careful eye on its health. Contact your cat’s vet straight away if it has any more symptoms. And ensure your cat gets the appropriate preventive treatments against other illnesses and parasites.

Caring for an FIV cat

Your FIV cat won’t be as independent as another cat, since its lifestyle options are limited. It is vital that you keep your cat indoors to stop the spread of the disease and reduce the chances of your cat picking up an illness that it can’t fight off.

However, your cat doesn’t know it has FIV and it will still have the same drive to roam, sunbathe, and generally spend time away from you. So experts recommend that you make your garden cat proof (no cats can get in or out) so that your cat can get the alone time it needs. You might need to use netting or a cage to make this happen.

You shouldn’t keep any other cats at the same time as an FIV+ cat. A cat probably won’t pass FIV to another cat through a water or food bowl, but it is best not to take the risk of keeping cats together. Also, you never know when they might fight – and it just takes one cat bite to pass the disease on. As far as we know, cats can’t pass FIV to your dog or other animals, including humans.

You will also need to provide more entertainment for your cat indoors, since it can’t wander off to do whatever cats do. Put everything it needs in consistent, easy to find places. Give it toys and games and, at your own risk, attempt to get your cat to play with them.

But also remember a cat needs calm time. Find a space indoors that you make welcoming for your cat to be by itself. Be careful that your cat doesn’t take out its frustration on the non-cats in your household!

How to stop your cat getting FIV

FIV doesn’t mean the end for a cat. But it does require some major changes. As an owner, it’s your responsibility to do all you can to prevent your cat contracting FIV. Neutering may be the best step, since neutered cats get in fewer fights. But you can also try keeping your cat indoors at night to avoid street trouble.

Be patient and offer your FIV+ cat love and support, and it can lead a long and relatively healthy life.