Unfortunately, so many cats are the victims of misunderstandings and prejudice in society. FIV positive cats are especially maligned. FIV, or Feline immunodeficiency virus, is the feline counterpart of the Human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, though it is far less serious. Even though cats with FIV can and do live long lives, still many veterinarians chose to put them down when they are diagnosed.
FIV positive cats are treated as hopeless cases because of several damaging myths about the disease that persist in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. One of the most damaging ideas is that FIV is a highly contagious disease that will easily infect other cats. This is simply not true. No evidence has been found that suggests the disease can spread through any means other than deep bite wounds, other than rare cases when a mother passes it on to her kittens during birth.
For this reason, you do not have to worry about an FIV positive cat living with other cats who do not have the disease. Cats cannot catch the disease by sharing food bowls and litter boxes, or by touching and being close to each other. It is only a concern if the FIV cat is very aggressive, but if the cat is spayed/neutered than this is usually not a problem as the procedure typically diminishes hostile behavior. So the risk of passing on the disease to other cats is actually quite low. Humans and other animals cannot catch FIV, as it only affects cats.
Not only can FIV cats live peacefully with non-FIV cats, but they can also live very long and healthy lives themselves. FIV often takes many years to develop, so it may be a very long time before cats who are infected even begin to show symptoms of the disease. When they are diagnosed, cats can still survive for an extended time. In caring for FIV positive cats, it is important to take your own precautions in regard to their health. FIV is a disease that attacks the immune system; it is not deadly on its own, but it can make cats less able to fight off other diseases. Caretakers should take care to try to keep their homes clean and disease free. They should keep their cats indoors and may perhaps consider homeopathic treatments or foods meant to strengthen the cat’s immune system.
[ACR President Louise Holton] knows from personal experience that FIV positive cats are in no way a lost cause. Several years ago (in the early 1990s) Louise had an ex-feral cat named Adam who contracted the disease. He had been living in her house when he escaped one night and returned with deep bite wounds on his neck. Months later, Adam became sick, with a high fever and an upper respiratory infection that did not go away with antibiotics. She found out Adam had FIV. It took time, but he recovered from his illnesses, becoming strong and healthy, and stayed with her for 12 more years, before he died of unrelated causes. Adam was a happy and friendly cat, who eventually grew to be 14 pounds, and lived a full life even with this disease that so many consider to be deadly. Louise retested seven rescued cats that lived in close quarters with Adam several times to prove that the disease from Adam was not contagious, and none of them ever contracted FIV.
The sad truth is that many veterinarians still euthanize these cats who might otherwise have years ahead of them and are not a danger to those around them. As with other cat issues, it is important to spread the word for our feline friends and not allow false beliefs to do any more damage than they already have. It is important for caretakers to know that if they have an FIV positive cat, there is still hope. And the goodwill should not be limited to cats living in homes; feral cats can also live full lives with the disease, which has been shown to be no more common among ferals than among house cats. Like all free roaming cats, they should be spayed/neutered, which would make them less likely to pass along the disease through fighting.
FIV is not a death sentence. We must be aware of the truth of this disease so that FIV positive cats can live the full lives they deserve.