Debunking the myths and fighting the stigma
FIV stands for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. It's a lentivirus, meaning that it progresses very slowly, gradually affecting a cat's immune system. It is passed through blood transfusions and through serious, penetrating bite wounds - mainly by stray, intact tom cats. The most well-known lentivirus in humans is HIV. But the two are not at all the same, and you can't get FIV from a cat. In fact, the only thing about FIV that you can catch is a bad case of the rumors.
Despite what many people think, cats with this condition can live perfectly long, happy, healthy lives.
1. The Feline Immuno-deficiency Virus is a slow virus that affects a cat's immune system over a period of years.
2. FIV is a cat-only disease and cannot be spread to humans or other non-felines.
3. FIV cats most often live long, healthy, and relatively normal lives with no symptoms at all.
4. FIV is not easily passed between cats. It cannot be spread casually - like in litter boxes, water and food bowls, or when snuggling and playing. It is rarely spread from a mother to her kittens.
5. The virus can be spread through blood transfusions, badly infected gums, or serious, penetrating bite wounds. (Bite wounds of this kind are extremely rare, except in free-roaming, unneutered tomcats.)
6. A neutered cat, in a home, is extremely unlikely to infect other cats, if properly introduced.
7. Many vets are not educated about FIV since the virus was only discovered 15 years ago.
8. FIV-positive cats should be kept as healthy as possible. Keep them indoors and free from stress, feed them a high-quality diet, keep and treat any secondary problems as soon as they arise.
To learn more about FIV, view Dr. Corona's Presentation.
Cowboy and Tulip - an FIV Adoption Story
When our wonderful old cat, Archy, died in the summer of 2010, we were grief stricken. But he was over 16 years old and had shared a long, full life with us. When he died we actually thought we would not have another pet. We travel a lot and it would be easier without a pet at home now. Then I discovered Cat Depot. They wanted people to help socialize their cats, to help the cats become more adoptable, more accustomed to different people. So I thought this was great. I needed to pet a cat, and here were a bunch of cats needing to be petted.
Within a few days I fell in love with a cat named Cowboy. He was in a room with only one other cat. He was the most beautiful cat I have ever seen. Part Siamese with blue eyes, a dark brown tail, tan spots. He was unique and I fell for him. I brought my grandchildren in to see him. Then my husband. Everyone agreed. He was beautiful.
But my husband is more inquisitive than I am. He wondered why these two cats were in a separate room. We learned that Cowboy and his roommate, Tulip, a very pretty black and grey tiger, were both FIV positive. Their immune systems were challenged. They were otherwise healthy and beautiful cats, but if they were to get sick or injured it was likely that they would recover much more slowly than a non-FIV cat . Small illnesses could even be fatal. You never know.
That made us sit back and think, of course. We didn’t know anything about FIV really. First, we wondered if we were taking on a sick cat. Plus were we taking on a cat that might die suddenly. Or a cat that quite possibly would require more money for veterinary care than a healthier cat. We talked to our vet. He agreed that all these things are to be carefully considered. He helped us weigh the pros and cons and here’s what we decided.
First, could we afford two FIV cats? Because my husband, soft touch that he is, decided that if we took Cowboy, we had to also take Tulip. They had lived in that room for 3 months together. We could not leave her there alone. She was a beautiful cat and needed a home, too. So if we took one, we took both.
Could we afford the care and feeding of two young cats? Yes. Could we afford two cats who might need extra vet care? Yes. Did we have intention of making the cats indoor cats? Yes. Because of their compromised immune systems, they need to be kept away from wildlife – so no more outdoor life for these guys. We have a home with a screen-enclosed pool deck. They have access to the outdoors, but they cannot get out in the grass or beyond. And were we emotionally ready to accept that these 2-year old cats might not live to be 16 years old like Archy had? Our vet told us that with good clean living, they could live a normal lifespan. Or – not. Life is uncertain for all of us.
Our decision was to adopt both FIV positive cats. Provide them with a safe and secure home and all our love. If we had not adopted them, who would? Whether for 2 years or for 12 years – we will give Cowboy and Tulip the nicest life they could ever ask for. And they are giving it back to us doubly.
Do not be afraid of adopting an FIV-positive cat. If you think logically about their needs and your ability to provide for them, these cats will give you the same love and joy as any other cat.