FIV is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. It is in the same family of viruses as FeLV in cats and HIV in people. The disease causes problems with the immune system similar to HIV in people. While the disease itself is not fatal, cats with FIV are not able to fight bacterial infections and other diseases as easily as cats without the disease.
The most common signs seen in a cat that has become sick secondary to an FIV infection are upper respiratory diseases (runny nose, coughing), oral cavity disease (severe gingivitis), skin infections, and intestinal disorders (diarrhea). Early signs may include diarrhea, fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Cats with FIV may live many years without developing clinical signs of the disease. To help keep these patients healthy from secondary infections, and to prevent spread of the disease, it is recommended that all FIV positive cats be kept strictly indoors.
How can my cat get the disease?
The primary mode of transmission of FIV is through bite wounds. Adult cats that are allowed to freely roam outdoors are at highest risk. Cats that reside in a household with a cat that has FIV are not typically at risk unless there is aggression between housemates. Sharing water/food bowls and litter boxes does not pose a risk for other cats in the household. The virus can rarely be transmitted through the mother to kittens either in the womb or through the milk. More commonly, maternal antibodies to FIV are passed through the milk, so that kittens from FIV positive mothers will test positive on currently available tests. This is not a true infection and as such, kittens must be at least 6 months old before accurate testing can be done.
Can I get the disease from my cat?
This virus is specific to cats, so people cannot get FIV and cats cannot get HIV.
How can I prevent my cat from getting this disease?
The only 100% effective way to prevent the disease is to keep your cats inside at all times. It is estimated that between 1-3% of all cats (pet and stray cat populations) are infected with FIV. Uncastrated adult males that are free roaming are the highest risk, but any cat that is allowed access to the outside can potentially develop the disease, if exposed. There are two strains (also known as clades) of FIV in the United States, A and B. The prevalence of each clade varies around the country, and in California there is about equal distribution of clades A and B.