Can I Get AIDS from a Cat?

It may surprise people that I am answering what appears to be a simple question. But it is a question which is still asked on the internet through Google search. There is still some ignorance of this subject.

No, you cannot get AIDS from a cat. This is because Feline Aids, as it is commonly referred to, is caused by a different virus from the one that attacks humans. The virus belongs to the same group of viruses but within the group it is a distant relative. So if you are bitten or scratched by a cat suffering from the disease and even if the cat had infected blood on his claws or teeth, the human victim would not pick up the disease. There is no evidence that Feline Aids can infect a human.

There’s an interesting story in a book I am currently reading written by Dr Desmond Morris (Cat World). He refers to a scare around 1996 concerning Feline Aids which led to the slaughter of a large number of healthy household cats.

Apparently, newspapers in California reported that a number of domestic cats had been diagnosed with the AIDS virus. As a consequence, many cat owners panicked and had their cats euthanized in case a scratch or bite from their cat gave them the dreaded disease. There appears to have been a stampede to veterinary clinics and cat sanctuaries with requests to have cats destroyed or to find new homes. Today, fortunately, cat owners are far better informed thanks largely to widespread information on the Internet.

Zoonotic: disease transmittable between humans and animals.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

P.S. Cats can’t get AIDS from people either.

P.P.S. Feline Aids is also called the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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5 Responses

  1. Jane says:

    FIV was first described in 1986. It was only bothered about as science was struggling to get a true handle on HIV at the time and was looking for a suitable virus to play with in pursuit of correct ID of HIV and of course a cure.

    FIV proved useless. It is far weaker than HIV, shrivels up within about 15 seconds when exposed to normal air in the lab, it also behaves a little differently to the human version.

    How many cats hav been murdered through misunderstanding of this virus? With decent, normal care FIV carrier cats can live long, healthy lives.

    When WW2 broke out, 440,000 pets were euthanased by vets on request of panicked owners. Vets just took the money in those days, ethics didn’t come into it. We were very much in the dark ages back then. Ethics & animals was viewed as a perverse connection to make & fight for. As the war was an unusual event it did seem to give rise to some odd behaviours. Marion Dawkins (nee, Stamp) a highly regarded ethologist published some interesting work on this subject.

    Back to AIDS, feline or human, AIDS does not refer to the virus (this usage has happened due to common language, tabloid laziness I think) AIDS is the end stage of the FIV or HIV disease process when the immune system has been totally overwhelmed by the virus. A human or cat can only be said to “have” AIDS when th ey have opportunistic infections/diseases, injuries that won’t heal. This is end stage disease.

    Calling FIV,AIDS – I believe this has helped ignorance to thrive and eagerness to treat cats like disposable commodities & have them killed, to dominate in an increasingly hostile world for the domestic feline.

    In countries lucky enough to have modern medicine available/affordable, it is now not uncommon to find people who have been infected with HIV who have no detectable viral load at all due to drugs that work to control a very tricky type of virus.

    Alas no such luck for our cats, yet.

  2. Albert Schepis says:

    In 1996 vets didn’t know that much about feline aids? If they did they shouldn’t have allowed the slaughter.

    • Jane says:

      Sadly, certainly in the UK today, hundreds of healthy cats are still killed by vets every week as they think of FIV as end stage HIV which is generally pretty grim.

      Vets know that FIV is not fatal, yet they still push owners towards having cats killed based on one snap test that is known to throw up false positives as a random matter of course.

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