FIV+ cats live approximately 12 years on average. The median age of death is around 10-12 years old, but some cats have lived up to 20 years of age.

Dr. Justine Lee’s article was published on September 24, 2021.

DVM, DACVECC, DABT Justine Lee

Don’t panic if your cat has been diagnosed with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV for short. However, be cautious. Let’s talk about what causes FIV in cats and what the prognosis is like for FIV+ cats.

What is feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)? 

The feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a highly infectious virus that damages your cat’s immune system. FIV in cats is comparable to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in people, and both are retroviruses. However, you should be aware that FIV is not infectious to you. FIV, like HIV, spreads throughout your cat’s body and reproduces in white blood cells (particularly the T-lymphocyte), which is why it’s often referred to as “kitty AIDS.” Check read my earlier article on FIV vs. FeLV for additional information on this topic!

Is it possible for me to get FIV from my cat? 

To repeat, FIV is a species-specific virus that cannot be transmitted to humans. So you and your canine companions are secure! It may, however, transmit to other cats if body fluids (e.g., saliva, blood, sexual transmission, during pregnancy) are exchanged—which happens most often when territorial intact cats fight outdoors. 

If your cat has just been diagnosed with FIV, I suggest that you get ALL of your cats tested. To prevent transmission and keep everyone safe, FIV+ cats should be kept inside and isolated from other cats. FIV+ cats that have been spayed or neutered may live alongside FIV-negative cats if they get along and there is little body fluid contact. 

Why does my cat become ill with FIV?

FIV+ cats are more vulnerable to infections, much as HIV increases the chance of infection in people. Because FIV weakens the immune system (immunosuppression), your cat’s body is less able to fight diseases including bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungal illnesses. Due to immunosuppression, even innocuous germs (which are naturally present on the body) that healthy cats can fight may make your cat ill. 

Fortunately, FIV+ cats may survive for years (up to a decade or more), although they can still die from secondary infections or old age-related reasons.

What are the symptoms of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)?

FIV symptoms may range from having no symptoms (and being identified based on a simple blood test) to having more severe symptoms. These may include the following:

  • Lethargy
  • Appetite decreases to the point of utter inappetance.
  • Gingivitis and stomatitis are inflammations of the gums and mouth, with secondary symptoms such as halitosis, drooling, and improper chewing.
  • Weight reduction that is subtle and long-term
  • GI symptoms that last a long time (e.g., diarrhea)
  • Haircoat that is untidy and dingy
  • Fever that comes and goes
  • Infections of the upper respiratory tract that are chronic (e.g., runny eyes, sneezing, nasal discharge)
  • Signs of the nervous system (e.g., behavioral changes, seizures)
  • Chronic ocular infections (e.g., runny eyes, hazy interior look, conjunctivitis or “pink eye”)
  • Skin issues that last a long time (e.g., hair loss, thin coat, redness, itching, secondary bacterial infections)
  • Swollen lymph nodes or other bodily swellings
  • Urinary issues 

How can you maintain FIV-positive cats as healthy as possible for as long as feasible?

I want your FIV+ kitties to survive as long as feasible as a veterinarian and cat parent. While FIV+ cats may not live as long as a healthy cat, there are a number of things you can do to keep your FIV+ cat healthy and flourishing for as long as possible. Here are six actions to take.

Keep your cat indoors at all times.

Make sure that all of your cats spend all of their time inside to avoid contracting illnesses from the outside world. 

Veterinary treatment on a regular basis

Make sure your cat is up to date on vaccinations and visits your veterinarian twice a year for a checkup. Yes, you read it correctly—not once, but twice a year. Because your cat’s immune system is more susceptible, it’s critical to detect illnesses or issues as soon as possible. You should also make sure your cat is on proper preventative medicine, such as deworming, heartworm, and flea and tick treatment, since if they get sick, their body will have a tougher time fighting it off. In FIV+ cats, I also suggest yearly blood testing to ensure that the white and red blood cell counts, kidney and liver function, protein levels, and salt balance are all within normal limits. 

Maintain the health of your other kitties.

What about the rest of the cats in the house? If your other cats are FIV-negative, make sure your healthy cats are examined annually and have their vaccinations up to date. While they seem to be healthy, they may infect your FIV+ cat, putting him or her at danger!

Enriching the environment

Make sure each cat in your home has adequate environmental enrichment and resources—in other words, the purrrfect living arrangement for each cat! A bed, scratching post, water and food dishes, and a litter box should all be included. It may be as easy as having the proper amount of litter boxes or a self-cleaning litter box. Litter-Robot can help minimize exposure to other cats’ body fluids by providing a new bed of litter every time. 

Nutrition

Ascertain that your cat is eating an AAFCO-approved cat food that is age-appropriate. You want to make sure your cat is eating properly since dental problems and gingivitis are more common in FIV+ cats. You should avoid giving undercooked or raw food to FIV+ cats since they are more susceptible to secondary food-borne bacterial (e.g., Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter) or parasite illnesses.

Recognize clinical symptoms as soon as feasible.

FIV+ cats have a significantly tougher time fighting secondary infections. Get to a vet right away if you detect symptoms of irregular drinking, reduced appetite, improper urinating, weight loss, lethargy, or anything else unusual… even if it’s in the middle of the night. That’s because even a “simple” urinary tract infection (UTI) in a FIV+ cat may quickly develop to a kidney infection and create a more serious systemic body illness.

Keep in mind that FIV has a far better prognosis than the more lethal Feline Leukemia (FeLV) virus. Remember that cats may survive with FIV for much longer—but it’s critical to keep them as healthy as possible!

Unsplash photo by Michael Sum

orange tabby cat sleeping - how long do FIV+ cats live?

Easy-Ways-to-Reduce-Your-Pets-Carbon-Footprint-%E2%80%93-Litter-Robot

Frequently Asked Questions

Do cats with FIV suffer?

They are not able to be infected with FIV, but they are susceptible to other diseases that affect their health.

When is it time to put down a cat with FIV?

 

How do you care for a cat with FIV?

FIV is a virus that can be transmitted through bites or scratches. It causes an immune system to attack the bodys own cells, which leads to a weakened immune system and other health problems.

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