The Furry Friends Feature: Myth Buster, Alert! Living with FIV+ Cats

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a widely misunderstood condition in some cats, which prevents many cats and many people to miss out on connecting with one another. With help from the Heritage Humane Society, we’re taking the mystery out of living with FIV-positive, or FIV+, cats.

A cat living with the condition is known as FIV+. It is an autoimmune disease that threatens a cat’s immune system. This means an FIV+ cat is more suspect to being affected by everyday bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

So, just like humans, cats, too, can get autoimmune diseases. Also, just like humans, cats with FIV+ can easily lead a normal life, in fact, as normal as a cat without FIV. Naturally, a cat living indoors is greatly protected from exposure to secondary infections whether from seasonal allergies to colds from other cats or diseases from any other outdoor creature.

Not easily transmissible

A damaging myth is that FIV is easily and casually transferred by saliva, which is simply not true. Routine sharing of water and food bowls, shared grooming, or even mating between FIV+ and FIV- cats does not provide a transmissible environment.

Approximately 1.5 to 3% of healthy owned cats and 4% of feral cats are FIV+. The condition is not easily transmissible because the condition lies deep in a cat’s mouth and gums. FIV is very fragile and does not live outside the body. Even if it were to enter a cat through the mouth, it would die in the stomach. The reality is that transmission requires a deep bite from an FIV+ cat to another cat to chance spreading the condition. Even a pregnancy mother cat who is FIV+ can easily deliver a litter of kittens who are FIV-negative. As long as the kittens receive their first nursing from the mom, which has critical antibodies to FIV-protein substances, their immune system is boosted for life.

Studies also continue to show that FIV+ cannot be transmissible to humans.

No, IVF+ is not a death sentence

Although it can be fatal if left untreated, a positive test for FIV is not a mandatory death sentence for a cat. With a high-protein diet and aggressive treatment of secondary infections such as an upper respiratory infection or pneumonia, an FIV+ cat can lead a reasonably normal life for a number of years after diagnosis.

Removing the stigma

Every cat that is cared for by the Heritage Humane Society is tested for FIV through a simple blood test. In the practice of full transparency, the cat’s status is on its biography page.

When people learn what FIV+ is, what it means for the cat, and how easy it is to care for the cat, it is an a-ha moment.

“In helping community members find their perfect pet companion here at the Heritage Humane Society, I particularly enjoy helping adopters understand FIV+ and how FIV+ cats we may have at the time can just as easily be considered for joining their family,” shares Jasmine Jutras, Customer Care Supervisor at Heritage Humane Society. “In fact, we have two adoptable FIV+ cats in our care right now – Smokes and Robert Cattinson, who are eager to find their forever homes where they can live their lives to the fullest.”

Jasmine Jutras with an adoptable cat
Robert Cattinson
Smokes

Many animal shelters and even no-kill shelters will euthanize FIV+ cats, however, the Heritage Humane Society and others like it continue to support education. When an adopter falls in love with a cat and then learns it is FIV+, the shelter team helps them learn how the FIV+ cat can fit into their home. Without the crucial educational component, it can be a long time for FIV+ cats to be rescued from shelters.

Meet Maggie and Tyson, IVF+ cats living the good life

Lisa Corcoran is an active volunteer for the Heritage Humane Society and enjoys caring for her two FIV+ cats. She adopted both Maggie and Tyson from the many adoptable cats at the shelter.

Lisa Corcoran the day she adopted Tyson & Maggie

“When I saw Maggie and Tyson at HHS, I knew they had three things going against them: they were a pair, they were older, and they were IVF+. I was looking for an older pair and IVF wasn’t a concern for me. Having been involved in volunteer work with rescues and shelters for many years, I know FIV+ cats have as much of a chance of a long healthy life as any other cat. I have since adopted a third cat who is FIV-. Three is my limit but whenever I’m ready to adopt again I wouldn’t hesitate to adopt another FIV+ cat, or two,” says Lisa Corcoran, volunteer at the Heritage Humane Society.

Tyson & Maggie in their happy home

Tyson, in particular, loves his role as foster Dad. Corcoran also fosters for the Heritage Humane Society. Tyson is quick to engage with the foster kittens, playing with them and giving them a supportive lick on their little heads.

Tyson with a litter of foster kittens

To learn more, visit HeritageHumane.org or call 757-221-0150. Heritage Humane Society is located at 430 Waller Mill Road, Williamsburg, VA 23185.


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