Feline FIV Transmission

Feline FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), also known as feline AIDS, is a fatal viral infection that weakens an infected cat’s immune system and leaves her prone to other serious infections.

Cat owners may wonder how their pets may be infected with this serious disease and what steps can be taken to protect their cats.

Cat Bites Are Main Transmission Method

The most common way that FIV is spread among cats is through deep bite wounds. Intact male cats that are prone to fighting and defending territory are the most likely animals to contract FIV, which is passed along through saliva transfer into an open wound. Deep scratches are another way that the virus is frequently spread.

The second, but less common, way that FIV is transmitted between cats is when an infected female cat has kittens. Some kittens may be infected during the birth process. Still others may contract the virus by drinking infected mother’s milk.

Since the FIV virus is very fragile when it’s outside a cat’s body, the virus cannot be passed on to other pet species or to people. It is a cat-specific virus.

How FIV Is Not Transmitted

Little evidence exists to suggest that FIV can be transmitted through casual contact between cats in a home, such as gentle play, snuggling or sleeping together. While sharing bowls of food or water has neither been proved or disproved thoroughly as a transmission method, it’s usually not recommended to have FIV-positive cats mingle with other cats in your home.

How to Determine if Your Cat Has FIV

A blood test can determine whether your cat has been exposed to FIV. Please note that kittens may show up with a false-positive result until they are about 6 months old, which means that they need to be retested after the age of 6 months.

Discuss FIV screening methods with your veterinarian to determine which test is best for your cat.

Signs of FIV Infection

Once a cat is infected with FIV, she will pass through three stages of the disease. These are the acute stage, the latent stage and the final stage. Death usually occurs within a year of the start of the final stage of FIV.

In the first or acute stage, the first clinical signs of disease appear about six weeks after a cat has been infected with FIV. These signs include fever, swollen lymph nodes and a lowered white blood cell count.

In the second or latent stage, the cat may lack clinical signs of disease altogether. While she may not appear sick, the virus is still damaging her immune system, and she is still able to shed the virus, which is why many experts recommend separating FIV-positive and FIV-negative cats.

In the third and final stage, other infections begin to take advantage of the cat’s weakened immune system. Signs of this stage can include fever, swollen lymph nodes, lethargy, and appetite and weight loss. Other indications of the third stage of FIV can include chronic infections of the ears, mouth and skin; cancer; anemia; pneumonia; digestive system problems; neurological problems; or vision problems.

How to Protect Your Pet from FIV

Protecting your cat from FIV infection is a two-step process. First, ensure your cat has been altered because spayed or neutered pets are less likely to want to wander, fight or defend territories. Next, keep your cat indoors at all times and limit exposure to strange cats until their FIV status is known.