Guide to Feline AIDS
immunodeficiency virus, also commonly referred to as FIV,
feline AIDS or cat AIDS, is a contagious disease which can
be passed from one cat to another.
Feline immunodeficiency virus is similar in many ways to the feline leukemia
(FeLV) virus. Both viruses are retroviruses and both viruses are contagious
to other cats. However, the FIV and FeLV viruses are two completely different
Feline immunodeficiency virus is normally passed from one cat to another
through contact with body secretions. Bite wounds from cat fights are
the most common means of transmission. However, the virus can also be
passed less frequently through sharing food dishes, water bowls, litter
boxes, grooming, and other cat-to-cat contact.
Symptoms of feline immunodeficiency virus can be extremely variable.
The FIV virus has the ability to depress the immune system of an infected
cat, leaving the cat susceptible to secondary infections. Symptoms will
depend on the type of infection present, but basically any time a cat
becomes ill, FIV is something which needs to be ruled out as the cause,
particularly if the cat's lifestyle puts the cat at risk of exposure
to feline AIDS.
Testing for feline AIDS is recommended for all cats. Feline immunodeficiency
virus testing is often done concurrently with feline leukemia virus testing.
Recently, a new test which also includes a feline heartworm antigen test
in conjunction with FIV and FeLV testing has been introduced and is being
Testing is recommended for kittens (though there is the risk of maternal
antibody interference with the test at a young age), for cats that are
to be introduced to households with other cats, for cats that have been
exposed to the virus and for cats that are ill. Kittens that test positive
for FIV initially are often retested in several months to confirm that
the test is truly positive and many test negative on a follow-up test.
These combination tests are good screening tests for FIV. However, more
sensitive testing is recommended for cats which test positive on these
tests to rule out the possibility of a false positive test and confirm
the presence of an FIV infection.
A positive FIV test means that the cat has been exposed to the feline
immunodeficiency virus. It does not mean that the cat is dying from the
infection or is going to die from the infection, although the risk of
disease is present.
A positive test does indicate that the exposed cat could be a carrier
of the disease and therefore capable of passing the disease to other
cats. Therefore, cats which test positive for feline AIDS should be housed
separately indoors and not allowed contact with other uninfected cats.
Cats with positive FIV tests need to be monitored closely for signs of
illness and medical attention should be pursued promptly should any signs
of illness occur. Keeping these cats healthy, providing proper nutrition,
avoiding stress as much as possible and encouraging a strong active immune
system creates the basis for caring for a FIV positive cat.
Healthy cats testing positive for feline immunodeficiency virus do not
need to be euthanized. However, it should be noted that FIV is usually
fatal for those cats which are showing clinical signs of illness as a
result of the virus.
There is a vaccination available for FIV. However, the vaccine is controversial
and veterinarians do not always agree on whether the vaccine should be
used. The feline immunodeficiency virus vaccine is a non-core vaccine
and is recommended only for at-risk cats, if it is recommended at all.
Vaccination produces a positive FIV test which may be mistaken for a
FIV infection in some cats, leading to the controversy surrounding the
vaccine. Cat owners should discuss the vaccine with their veterinarian
to best determine whether their cat would benefit from the vaccine.