What should I do with a cat that tests positive for FIV?

QUESTION: I just rescued a four month old kitten from behind the building where I work. During his first vet visit, the kitty tested negative for Feline Leukemia but positive for FIV. He is a sweet gentle kitten, and I have already fallen in love with him. I have two FIV negative cats at home who get along well with each other, and I had planned to add this kitty as my third. I am getting some conflicting opinions about keeping this kitten because of his FIV status. Any advice?

ANSWER: How kind of you to take in this homeless kitty! After deciding to add him to your family, you must have been quite surprised to hear he tested positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), and your confusion about what to do next is a common feeling.

GraceCat Angel Network has often been in this same situation. A kitten or cat is surrendered, and the subsequent Combo test indicates an FIV+ response. When this first happened to us back in 1997 with a stray tortoiseshell kitten found in Pottstown, not much was known about this virus, but over the years the veterinary community has learned a great deal about it. And their latest information confirms what we have seen ourselves in over 18 years of fostering and adopting out FIV+ kitties. Here are the four guidelines we follow with cats testing positive for FIV, based on our experience and backed up by veterinary studies:

(1) All kittens under six months old need to be retested later because they often test a false positive. Cornell Feline Health Center (part of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine) reports in their online article “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus”:

“Infected mother cats transfer FIV antibodies to nursing kittens, so kittens born to infected mothers may receive positive test results for several months after birth. However, few of these kittens actually are or will become infected. To clarify their infection status, kittens younger than six months of age receiving positive results should be retested at 60-day intervals until they are at least six months old.”

(2) The virus is not as contagious as first thought, and properly introduced, friendly FIV positive kitties can live with negative cats with little risk. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center’s article:

“The primary mode of transmission is through bite wounds. Casual, non-aggressive contact does not appear to be an efficient route of spreading FIV; as a result, cats in households with stable social structures where housemates do not fight are at little risk for acquiring FIV infections.”

(3) The care recommended for these cats includes common sense practices that we have always advised for all our cats. The Cornell Feline Health Center recommends:

“FIV-infected cats should be confined indoors to reduce their exposure to infectious agents carried by other animals; FIV-infected cats should be spayed or neutered; They should be fed nutritionally complete and balanced diets.”

(4) It is wise to promptly take care of any health issues that are noticed in these cats. The Cornell Feline Health Center advises:

“Vigilance and close monitoring of the health and behavior of FIV-infected cats is even more important than it is for uninfected cats. Alert your veterinarian to any changes in your cat’s health as soon as possible.”

BananasP1In our experience at Cat Angel Network with dozens of FIV+ cats, we have found that the vast majority of them live healthy and long lives. Almost all have lived to be over ten years old. The one health issue we have seen more frequently with these cats is a redness of the gums and mouth (stomatitis). This is a treatable condition that is best taken care of early (as it would be with cats who are FIV negative).
Our advice for your four month old kitten would be to have him retested after he is six months old. (All of the CAN kittens that were retested came up FIV negative on a later test). If your present two cats are not aggressive (typical play-fighting is not a risk, but only fights involving deep, penetrating bite wounds), and you introduce the new kitty slowly and carefully, with close supervision until all are comfortable with each other, we feel that you should not experience any difficulties.

We at CAN have a special place in our hearts for cats that test FIV+. They have lived for far too long under the stigma of these three letters, often the innocent victims of misinformation that has persisted from the past. One of CAN’s missions is to help spread the much more optimistic outlook presented by the latest results of veterinary studies. These cats need and deserve the same joys and comforts of life that rescue organizations like ours passionately seek for all of our feline friends!

Quotes in this column are excerpted from the findings of the Cornell Feline Health Center (part of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine). The full article “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus” can be found online at http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc. Accessed April 2015.