Adopting Cats with FIV

So, you're interested in adopting a cat? Well then, we know you already have a big heart to open your home to a feline in need! Have you ever considered adopting an animal that has specific requirements, but feel intimidated about providing ongoing care? Adopting a cat that is FIV positive may be the solution for you; the 'special needs' cat with minimal special needs.

What is FIV?

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, also called FIV or feline AIDS, is a viral infection that is specific to cats; it is unrelated to human HIV, and cannot be transmitted to dogs or humans. It is a common infection, with recent studies estimating the prevalence of the virus at between 14 - 29% of Australia's cat population.1 Once a cat is infected, it will carry the virus for life; there is no cure. Similar to HIV in humans, in cats which experience symptoms of FIV infection, the disease suppresses their immune system and makes it more difficult for them to respond to challenges their body may face. This can manifest, for example, as:

  • more difficulty facing infections such as those of the respiratory system, urinary tract and skin
  • a predisposition to dental disease
  • a decreased ability to fight nastier diseases that may develop in life such as cancers 2

While this may sound scary, the excellent news for our feline friends is that research has also shown that cats infected with FIV, if appropriately cared for, have no difference in lifespan or quality of life compared to uninfected cats! All they need to equip them for the best chance of success is a loving, secure home and regular veterinary care. Those who have had experience with FIV positive cats all tend to attest that they are super gorgeous, loving kitties!

Gus - FIV Positive - Adopted 24 October 2020

Harold - FIV Positive - Adopted 13 January 2021

What do I need to consider when adopting an FIV positive friend?

Feline immunodeficiency virus is spread via blood and saliva, so is most often acquired through cats fighting. For this reason, it is important that to be a responsible cat owner, cats infected with FIV are housed completely indoors, or securely contained to their properties. This results in a much safer life for them, too! Consider building an outdoor cat run or enclosing an outdoor area if you'd like your FIV positive cat to have some secure outdoor time.

An extra consideration in the journey of caring for an FIV positive cat, if you already have cats as pets, is keeping a harmonious, multi-cat household while also preventing any other cats becoming infected. In a stable household where cats do not fight with each other, the risk of infection to cats that do not have FIV from those that carry infection has been deemed to be minimal, though studies are inconsistent.3 While it is safest and most practical to have a household of only infected or non-infected cats, we know life often likes to throw us challenges, and sometimes there's a cat that just needs to become a part of your family! If you wish to adopt an FIV cat, it is best to discuss your situation with your veterinarian; it is likely to be a good idea to check your resident cats for FIV infection (a simple blood test) and vaccinate them prior to adoption, acknowledging fighting is more likely to occur as cats are getting used to each other. Likewise, if you wish to adopt an uninfected cat and have an FIV positive household, vaccinating the new cat prior should be considered. No vaccine is ever 100% and there is still some risk of contracting disease. For some, complete separation of positive and negative cats in the house could be considered, though this can be very tricky!

Finally, given the slightly heightened risk of FIV positive cats developing other diseases, regular veterinary care and routine health checks are a must, as they should be for all kitties!

The decision to adopt an FIV positive cat ultimately depends on whether the kitty that catches your eye is a fit for your lifestyle and personality; our SCAR team can help you find your purrfect match!

Thank you for choosing adoption and considering opening your heart to one of our more special feline citizens!

Further Reading:

  1. RSPCA Australia. What are Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV) and how do I protect my cat from them? 2019. Accessed 06 April 2021.
  2. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Accessed 06 April 2021.
  3. American Association of Feline Practitioners. 2020 AAFP Feline Retrovirus Testing and Management Guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2020) 22, 5 - 30.