FIV cats can live long, normal and healthy lives

Cat With FIV - Brody

Cat With FIV – Brody. Photo by Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue

Cats with FIV can live long, normal lives. They should be cared for with that in mind.

This is an additional article on FIV, commonly referred to as “Feline Aids”. The original, technical, article is here. Jane (Everycat) makes the important point in a comment that the word “AIDS” carries unfair connotations for cats due to ignorance of what it really means. She recommends that the disease is not called “Feline Aids” but FIV (full name: Feline immunodeficiency virus).

The purpose of this post is to spread the word that cats with FIV have a life and a value. They should be treated with respect and cared for. Jane says that the unneutered male stray cat with FIV and other diseases is the cat that tends to promote the idea that FIV is dangerous and a killer. These cats do not represent most FIV cats. All FIV cats are different. It is wrong to assume that all FIV cats are very ill and have no quality of life.


 Click for a list of other pages on FIV cats


Jane says this:

Would it be possible to amend this article with some up to date information about transmission of FIV and to avoid using the term “Feline AIDS”

Glasgow University Vet School have some definitive research on the subject.

Catwork Sanctuary have long provided reliable and sensible information on this virus and how to successfully manage cats who have the virus.

Use of the term “Feline AIDS” does nothing but cause hysteria and keep people ignorant of the true nature of this virus. The FAIDS part is only relevant when a cat reaches the terminal stage of the condition and has full immune system collapse.

Often people use the term Feline AIDS because they assume that everyone knows what AIDS is because of HIV. Unfortunately, most people are hugely ignorant about HIV too. Thousands of healthy cats are needlessly killed every year by vets and rescues (including RSPCA and Cats Protection) due to profound ignorance about the virus.

If you tracked 1000 cats with FIV, 1000 cats without the virus and 1000 cats of unknown status, and determined what killed them, you would be unable to see any difference between the groups in what carried them off this mortal coil.

If cats with FIV are well cared for, they live long, normal healthy lives.

Please contact Catwork, they will give you some really accurate information about this virus.

http://www.v63.net/catsanctuary/index.html

Thanks
Jane

How to successfully manage cats who have the virus

FIV reduces a cat’s immune system slowly allowing other infections to take hold. A properly cared for FIV cat can have a normal lifespan. It is important that the best possible care is provided which means:

  1. best quality cat food
  2. excellent parasite control
  3. keeping them indoors
  4. providing a calm, low stress environment2.
  5. acknowledging the ways transmission takes place and taking preventative action.

Up-to-date information about transmission of FIV

FIV cannot be transmitted to people. FIV can be transmitted between cats. It usually happens through bites. The virus is in the saliva and “injected” into the blood. Bites occur when cats fight. Fights between cats, due to territorial disputes, mating and over food, can be greatly reduced when the cats:

  • are sterilised and
  • provided with good quality food1.

There is no evidence that the disease is transmitted through mating. A queen can rarely pass on the infection to her unborn kittens2. FIV is not transmitted through shared eating bowls or mutual grooming (allogrooming). This is because1:

  • The virus has a short life outside the cat. This prevents transmission other than through biting.
  • Also the mucous membrane is a barrier to the virus. This prevents transmission via the mouth.

FIV cats can live communally. It is not an automatic requirement that they be separated. Vets may recommend that FIV cats are separated2. Jane correctly disagrees because in a well managed mutlicat household cats don’t fight and bite. It is about management and new cats being introduced with care. Cats in multicat households should be tested.

Vaccinations

In the USA there is a vaccine but it is not generally recommended. Vaccinations against the other disease to which a FIV cat is vulnerable seem like a good idea but may be counterproductive because of the strain placed on the cat’s immune system by the vaccine.


Refs:

  1. Catwork (v63.net). Jane’s site.
  2. Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook page 94
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Comments

FIV cats can live long, normal and healthy lives — 35 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article Michael, it is so important that people get realistic information about this virus.

    Mungo is my cat who is FIV+. He turned up one day in February 2012, during a filthy, freezing sleet storm. I’d seen him around over the previous 18 months but only fleeting glimpses. The first time I saw him, I think he was probably experiencing the onset of viral infection. He looked very rough, skinny and beaten up. I saw him run around my garden and off over the road. Over the following 18 months, I set a trap, for at least a week, every time I saw him, wherever I had seen him. Of course, he was a stray entire tim on the move, hunting for females. He had a tatty and dangerous collar on him, but no tag.

    The day he turned up, paws at the glass door, miaowing plaintively, I welcomed him in. Within an hour, he had found a cat bed, eaten and was cleaning himself.

    I took him to the vet, for a chip scan (none found of course)neutering and an FeLV and FIV test. When I asked what the current practice policy was with regard to FIV+ cats, the head nurse gave me a lecture that showed her ignorance of the virus and she had clearly mixed up FeLV and FIV with regard to transmission and prognosis. She told me that if clients wanted an FIV+ cat killed, they would encourage it!

    One vet at the practice had years of experience working in Portugal with feral and owned cats, and knew the reality that if cats are well cared for, they live long, normal lives. Of course he is our preferred vet there now. He has given Mungo excellent care and pointed me towards excellent research about this virus.

    Barbara Hunt of Catwork (not my site btw) runs a small, private organisation that provides sanctuary for and advice for those who want to help cats with FIV and now FeLV too. She gave me wonderful moral support when I first got Mungo. She armed me with full facts to counter the nonsense I was hearing from some of the vet nurses and also some of my friends. She also put my mind at rest about Mungo living fully integrated and safely with my other cats.

    This is Mungo. He’s a very happy, healthy lad, very active, very loving to people and all other cats. I am so glad he is in my life and that I didn’t ignore my instincts that shouted so loudly that no cat should be killed for convenience nor ignorance.

  2. ….and here are some more pictures of Mungo, showing how well integrated he is with my (then) two other cats (Gerry, small scruffbag cat) and Oliver (large floofy chap, sadly PTS due to Saddle Thrombus in September 2012)

    I kept Mungo in the study for one month when he first arrived. The study is at the front of the house and has two windows, so he had views. I used a home made screen door for the entire month, so that Oliver and Gerry could see and smell him. I had to get Gerry a viral swab to test for Calici virus (Gerry has been a carrier) because ironically, it’s other cats and their bugs who are the biggest threat to cats with FIV. The swab (a pcr test) was clear of calici virus (Gerry has been on oral Feline Interferon for years) so that allowed me to gradually let the cats into each other’s space.

    Oliver, was a huge love bug cat. He’s nursed, cleaned, trained so many of the cats who have visited here as fosters/rescues over the years and his love for Mungo was unconditional. With both Oliver and Gerry’s help, Mungo’s confidence grew hugely.

  3. Despite being the smallest cat of the house, little Gerry has “short cat syndrome” and is actually the cat who is in total charge of the house. When he was first introduced to my then four cats, he showed he was totally unsocialised to felines and it took a good few weeks for him to learn good cat to cat manners. Now he adores other cats.

  4. Since the sad loss of Oliver, Gerry and Mungo have become even closer. This is a typical evening scene in the sitting room

  5. After about five weeks of living inside, I trained Mungo to a cat harness. I agree with Catwork that large amounts of fresh air will really help to keep a cat healthy. I spent a couple of weeks with Mungo on the harness, walking the admittedly short boundaries of my home. He took to the harness very quickly. I used no pulling, tugging, clickers – just praise and reward, allowing him to take the lead. Not once did he try and leap over the wall or out into the road. Gerry always accompanied us. The small shed where I keep my bike is an excellent look out spot and became and still is one of his favourite places to sit sentinel.

  6. Mungo is allowed outside when I am home and can supervise his activities. I know this is controversial, but I believe that with common sense and depending on the personality of the cat and the physical outside environment a decision to allow a cat with FIV some freedom can be made.

    Mungo never leaves the garden. He patrols around the house to the front which is open, but mostly spends his time in the back garden which is secure from intruders such as dogs and people.

    Here he is on top of the roof.

    None of my cats are allowed outside if I am out/away. Even for the shortest time. This sometimes results in appointments being missed or maybe someone having to wait for me or indeed me having to wait for my cats to come in. Mungo is usually lurking under one of the bushes in an earthy wallow, knowing full well that the rattle of the cruncher box means he needs to be inside, but, because he is a cat, the world runs, as it should, to his time, not mine.

    I have screens for the windows, so there is fresh air through the house at all times.

  7. Regarding vaccinations. This was a hard decision to make, but I read up as much as I could, spoke to vaccine manufacturers, vets and of course Catwork to try and make sense of a very confusing subject.

    The greatest danger to Mungo is other, unvaccinated cats. We have seen a reduction in the number of cats kept as pets in our road over the years, but there are occasional wanderers (any stray gets trapped and helped immediately by me or my friend) but I did want Mungo to have some outside time and protection, so I had to find a vaccine that wouldn’t stir up the virus into an active stage.

    I decided to vaccinate Mungo. The most appropriate vaccine available was Fevaxyn Pentofel which protects against all the usual feline diseases including FeLV. It is made from Inactivated Virii and is considered a safer option for cats with FIV.

    It is however a vaccine that really wallops the cat hard for 24 to 48 hours and with FIV you don’t want inflammatory responses getting a grip. To counter this, on initial vaccine regime and on his first sunsequent booster, I have given him (with vet approval) a full dose of Meloxicam straight after the injection.

    This has worked well and the “post vaccine fatigue” as it is so lightly called, is minimal and Mungo has protection.

    This is a controversial subject for FIV cats. Fevaxyn Pentofel is quite hard to get hold of. I now have the support of the initially anti-FIV-Vet nurse and she makes sure that a single dose is available for Mungo each time.

    Mungo has now been in my life for nearly a year and a half. I wouldn’t ever part with him. He’s so loved and so loving. If I am unwell, he’s a doctor and nurse all rolled into one.

    He’s also a very tired boy sometimes and this pose is one of his classics. Legs akimbo, dreaming of mice and birds to hunt.

    I hope you have enjoyed seeing and reading about Mungo. I would implore anyone who is thinking about adopting or rescuing a cat, to consider that FIV is not a death sentence. Once neutered and well nourished, these cats deserve as much of good life as any cat.

    For more information on FIV, please visit Catwork (link in main article) They publish a very informative book called “80 FIV Cats” which they will send on request. Of course a donation is always welcome. They are marvellous advocates for these very wonderful and much maligned cats.

    Michael, thank you for the opportunity to share Mungo and thank you for being a great advocate for all cats.

    Jane

    • WOW….and WOW again. 🙂 Gosh I am totally blown away by your superb comments and pictures which tell us how beautiful FIV cats are.

      You do great work. Mungo is a very handsome cat. He looks quite big and solid.

      All cats are equal and the most vulnerable need our love and care more than the fittest.

      And a big thank you for adding the extra information which I had hoped you would do. You are much better than me at writing about FIV.

      • Thanks Michael, I was a little worried I’d over done the content on Mungo and your server might groan.

        He is indeed a large and sturdy boy. Like many cats who have experienced a lack of food, he’s very keen on his grub, so much so that he has to endure some rationing. Luckily, he is also a high energy cat, and what the vet calls “well muscled” At the last weigh in, he was 6.1 kilos.

        Jane

        • This is wonderful – thank you so much for sharing – he truly is a beautiful boy and you have done right by him. I’m sure he knows it deep down that you are his absolute protector. I have always known it’s not a death sentence but I never knew the ‘extent’ of the meaning of that comment. It’s been really nice reading about dear Mungo. You have a new best friend 🙂

          He looks so happy and it seems he can live a normal life – well done for all your research and finding an appropriate vaccine. Just one question, they say vaccines have risks regardless of a cat’s health and I have always come to the conclusion that the first set and possibly one more set of vaccinations a year later is enough – that there is no need to repeat on a yearly basis. Perhaps because Mungo has a potentially weak spot in his immune system is that why its best to vaccinate him yearly if possible?

          You sound like a wonderful person and Mungo a wonderful cat and I’m sure you relationship with him is really something special. Thank you so much again for sharing – it’s been informative and they are lovely photos – what a handsome and lucky boy, so glad you found eachother 🙂

          • Thanks Marc! Mungo is a very good friend, as are all cats given the chance.

            The vaccine issue seems to be controversial for both FIV positive and negative cats. My vet says every 3 years after the initial vaccine course and one booster. I have not yet decided whether to go ahead with his second year booster.

            Mungo is maybe about 4 or 5 years old and contracted FIV when he was maybe about 2 or 3 years old. Cats who contract the virus when young sometimes have a slightly more vulnerable immune system than cats who contract it when they are older. Given that the vaccine he gets is pretty hard core, and any assault/stimulation on the immune system is in itself a risk for the cat with FIV, I find myself with yet another dilemma. I still have some research to do on whether to give him another annual booster and go with the 3 year thing.

            I think it’s pretty common practice now for vets to go with the 3 yearly booster for FeLV, but unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get vaccines for single diseases. They always come bundled together for all the common feline afflictions. I want Mungo protected from the usual diseases, but it’s hard to find good information on the minimum frequency for anything other than FeLV vaccination.

            With Gerry in the house, although the lab couldn’t grow any calici for the pcr test when it was done, I’m aware that the pcr is just a snapshot of the moment the swab was done. The Interferon may well have wiped the infection from his system (the manufacturers have said this is possible) but it may turn up again without me knowing about it, and Calici would be a big risk for Mungo. If Gerry still has it, he would in theory be shedding it continuously (Feline Herpes – similar in symptoms to Calici is only shed during a disease event, often caused by stress) So Gerry might be an anomaly, not have had any virus in his throat/mouth when the swab was done or be virus free.

            Cats with FIV are particularly prone to oral problems, calici can be a mouth wrecker and lead to auto-immune gum/tooth disease, which is the very last thing I want to happen.

            I wish I could answer your question with some certainty, but I am still hunting for an answer on this one myself.

            Animals are such a wonderful presence in our lives, but our ways of managing their health throw up so many questions!

            Jane

            • Jane I understand you can never really be sure. There’s alot of conflicting info out there so it’s impossible to be sure. That must be hard – I don’t envy the difficulty of that choice.

              When you truly care about your animals then with that comes the territory of confronting the status quo in your quest to do the right thing. You said it perfectly when you said (about animals) “our ways of managing their health throw up so many questions!”

              • I wonder if the veterinarian’s general business ethos (some are more businesslike than others) sometimes gets in the way of good, clear information about cat health and welfare. Vaccinations are a good example. They are not needed annually, yet a lot of vets get clients back annually for a cat vaccination and check up. This causes confusion.

              • Michael it’s hard not to end at some kind of conspiracy in just about any proffession and it’s always for the same reason – the business interests are never quite the same as the clients so disinformation is always to be found when you dig below the surface in any proffession no doubt. But here we are talking about our cat’s lives so it’s serious.

                • At almost 65 years of age my life experiences tell me to be distrustful. Not good but I can’t help it. I think people forget that vets are businesses. For a vet the priority is making money. The second objective is animal welfare. They overlap but the extent of the overlap depends on the vet.

                  Certainly in the UK with the National Health Service people can get confused with the ethos.

          • I have always come to the conclusion that the first set and possibly one more set of vaccinations a year later is enough

            I work on that principle and so far it is worked out very nicely.

          • Never worry about anthropomorphism Marc, we are all animals, other species have as rich an emotional life as we do in my belief.

            Mungo is a beefy boy Marc, no doubt about it. It took him a while to happily get onto the sofa, then again, another while to get onto the human bed, there is something very meek about him despite his size. He’s very polite too, which is definitely a strong leadership type quality. Gerry and he seemed equally matched if different in approach, Gerry bosses we hapless apes around and always gets exactly what he requires. Mungo is learning different ways but he has velvet paws inside velvet gloves. He has one anxiety as a food coverer, but I don’t stress about it, the more fuss one makes about things like that, the worse they get I have found. If he wants to cover his food, then that’s ok by me. He does it less and less as he feels safer I think.

            I am convinced he had a kind owner once upon a time. I suspect that it may have been an elderly owner due to his reluctance to get onto human beds and chairs/sofas. These places are sometimes forbidden by older folk, though not always of course. This is pure speculation and a yearning to know his backstory on my part!

            This issue around vaccinations is so complex. Yes, I do see and have seen so much of vets maximising their income. Sometimes this can be assuaged rationally with good evidence for say, doing an ultrasound to detect a suspected heart abnormality. Both cat and owner will benefit from the detection of a condition or lack of it and resultant possible treatment or lack of need for it.

            Vaccines are a bit different, because there is always the issue of “what if?”

            I do wonder if single disease vaccines were readily available, then annual vaccination for everything would be a thing of the past?

            At 53 years old I am really cynical about a lot of things in life. So yes, I see a lot of manipulation of owners by vets can happen. They can prey on owner fear and guilt and in some instances I have seen vets happy to keep clients ignorant because an ignorant client won’t question them and is very likely to just pay up. I would like to see vets promote education about animals, mine have started doing more of this over the years, but I see room for improvement.

            I see that multi purpose vaccines are a real money spinner for the pharmaceutical companies. As is annual vaccination. The other side of the coin is, one injection might be preferable to four or five for the cat. For cats without FIV or calici, then I have gone the three year route and not yet come unstuck. But with my two now, it’s a harder call to make. Even then, if I went down the annual route, there is no guarantee that the particular variety or clade of virus would be the one that the vaccine protects against.

            Interestingly, Catwork don’t vaccinate, their cats are all in magnificent condition, have free access to a secure and vast, beautiful garden outside and sleep in heated cabins. They are not over crowded and are well socialised to each other long before they actually have contact, due to the use of very large pens. This healthy lifestyle has to have an impact on their health, as shown by the pictures on their website. They are superb cats and extremely well cared for.

            October is crunch time for Mungo’s vaccine decision.

            What an interesting discussion this is!

  8. A brilliant article thank you Jane.
    It’s frightening how little vets and vet nurses know about FIV, I admit that I myself didn’t know all you have written here.
    This article will be most helpful to educate people on the subject.
    Your photos are very good, such beautiful cats!

    • There are lots of pictures (which I love) but WordPress and Hostgator handle pictures really well. The picture are “smushed” by Yahoo (reduced slightly in file size).

    • Thanks Ruth, I agree with you how frightening the prevailing ignorance about this much misunderstood virus is. At one point, the day Mungo was being neutered that someone might over ride my instruction to neuter and chip him, and put him down. I got him back as quickly as I could, but over the 18 months my confidence has grown in that they know he is healthy and happy.

      Jane

  9. This is our FIV+ boy Brinkley. He’s our largest cat at almost 16 pounds. We were originally going to foster him back in January 2012, but he fit in so well we decided to keep him. He lays around with the other cats and even allows Sealy to chase his tail. Every night Brinkley waits in the floor for Sealy to come and play.

    Brinkley had a bit of an URI at the time he first came to us. He quickly got over it. About 5 months ago he started with the runny nose and I got him to the vet the same day. Other than that he’s been healthy. He’s not under any stress at home and that probably helps. He loves to sleep on his back with his paws up in the air.

    He does get a bit wild with our Shit-tzu Cujo. They chase each other from one end of the house to the other. Brinkley is kind and not the type to pick a fight. He likes to chase the laser light with the others and all the cats love him.

    • Elisa, Brinkley is gorgeous, what a handsome chap!

      Mungo and Gerry thunder around the house every night, having quite fierce wrestling matches, but claws are in always and no one gets even the slightest graze.

      This is the thing with FIV, if they get a little infection, if we jump on it straight away then it’s easier for them to recover quickly. This is something I forgot to mention.

      Thank you for sharing Brinkley, I love him!

      • I read one piece of garbage saying FIV+ cats only live 2 years after diagnosis. We expect Brinkley to have a long and healthy life. I’m lucky my vet is right on my way to work and I can take a cat with me at a moments notice.

        I really don’t know what to do about his catnip addiction…any ideas…

        • Evidently, in your household/yard, it should be a Controlled Substance. lol. Thanks for the pic, Elisa. He’s in lalaland…;)

  10. Oh Elisa, there’s all manner of old guff written about this virus. I think it suffered hugely from being first described in 1986 (at the height of the HIV panic) and scientists hoped felines with the virus could become models for research into HIV. FIV soon turned out to be less than useless for that purpose, but it was too late, the tabloids were reporting “YOUR CAT HAS AIDS” and sadly, the ignorance and panic has stuck.

    Look at blissed out Brinkley, I love his paws all tucked up. Have you tried Root Herb Valerian with your cats? Most cats love it and it doesn’t make them euphoric like nip but it’s a smell only a cat could love. Triple, sealable bagging is essential and even then it still reeks. The smell is very similar to feline anal glands – yummy!

    • My cats can’t stand Valerian root. If I take one herbal sleep aid capsule w. Valerian in it, they won’t sleep with me. And, truly, I can’t tolerate the smell either. Now, Basil, they like, besides the Nepeta and other Salvias, but no Centranthus ruber for them!

      • Some cats go for a certain type of Honeysuckle wood too.

        There’s also Silvervine which I don’t think we have in the UK and Watanabi which is from Japan. All big cat attracters.

        Have you tried any of these Elisa?

        I hate the smell of valerian, it’s foul, but since my cats like it, I have to keep some under multiple wrap. Whatever is in valerian root is also in a herb called Spikenard which is used in some cosmetics and perfumes.

        I was given a cruelty free facial spritzer as a gift a couple of weeks ago and tried it out. Within seconds Mungo was all over me, nuzzling, drooling, biting and purring up pure ecstacy. I looked up this herb, lo and behold it’s in the valerian family!

  11. Now AFA FIV testing? A money-maker for the veterinarians AND the labs. As soon as Cornell, Texas A&M, Davis(California), et al. get off their duffs 😉 and get the job done, we will be one happier unit. 😉

    • I think I’d be happier if no one had bothered describing the virus in the first place in 1986 Caroline. Having spoken to so many people on the subject it really does seem that the only thing to worry about it, is the keenness of some professionals to kill cats who carry it.

      There’s a good forum on FIV on Cat Chat, with many really experienced owners of FIV cats.

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