Can a cat with feline AIDS give it to a human?

NO! This question was an important one in around 1986 which was five years after scientists discovered the cause of AIDS in humans namely HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus). Since then, a lot more has become known to the scientific community about AIDS in humans. However, in 1986 there was a scare concerning Feline AIDS (FIV) which led to the unnecessary killing of a large number of healthy household pets.

FIV and HIV are related but different species of virus
FIV and HIV are related but different species of virus. Image: MikeB.
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Newspapers in California reported that a number of domestic cats had been identified as carrying the AIDS virus. A lot of pet owners panicked and wanted to put their cat to sleep, or they wanted to get rid of their cat in case a scratch gave them the dreaded disease.

Apparently, within hours of the report of feline AIDS being present in cats, veterinary clinics and cat sanctuaries were flooded with requests to have cats destroyed or rehomed. But that fear of transmission of the virus that causes feline AIDS to humans was entirely unfounded because the feline immunodeficiency virus is different to the one that attacks humans. It belongs to the same group of viruses but within the group it is a distant relative.

I read that the feline immunodeficiency virus was, in fact, first discovered in a Northern California cattery in 1986 which is three years after scientists, as mentioned above, identified the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Feline aids – a detailed look at FIV

You can see, therefore, the proximity in the time of discovery of the disease in cats and people leading some people to became concerned believing it could be transmitted to them i.e., it was a zoonotic disease. It is not a zoonotic disease. In more recent times the Covid pandemic caused the same concern in many people with the same consequences or worse. In China some cat owners simply threw their beloved cat companions out of apartment windows in high rise buildings to their deaths.

And interestingly, the Covid-19 virus IS transmissible from cats to humans (it is believed) and from humans to cats (certainly) but there are very few cases of either form of transmission. It has been confirmed that zookeepers gave the disease to big cats in a number of zoos but cats deal with the virus more successfully than humans. Some domestic cats got Covid from their owners but showed mild symptoms and resolved the illness without human intervention.

Percentage of cats with FIV in various countries

To return to feline AIDS (FIV) and to stress the point: these two viruses, the one that causes AIDS in people and the one that causes AIDS in cats are ‘species-specific’. HIV does not produce disease in cats and FIV does not produce disease in humans.

Below are some more articles on zoonotic diseases.

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