What Is FIV in Cats? Everything You Need to Know

Cats are susceptible to the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a viral infection that weakens their immune systems. FIV, or feline immunodeficiency virus, is sometimes referred to as the feline equivalent of HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus.

However, cats with FIV can live long and robust lives if given the right care and management. FIV is not contagious to people or other animals. This page will define FIV and go over its symptoms, transmission mechanism, diagnosis process, treatment options, and prevention measures.

What Is FIV and How Does It Affect Cats?

Since FIV is a retrovirus, its genetic material gets inserted into the DNA of the host cells. White blood cells, particularly T lymphocytes, which are critical for the immune system, are the primary targets of FIV infection. FIV lowers the cat’s capacity to fight against illnesses by infecting and killing these cells.

How Does FIV Affect Cats

The acute stage, the asymptomatic stage, and the progressive stage are the three stages of infection for FIV.

1] Acute stage: The cat enters the acute stage between one and three months after being introduced to the virus.

The virus multiplies quickly in the lymph nodes during this phase and spreads throughout the body. Lethargy, loss of appetite, swollen lymph nodes, fever, and other symptoms are possible in the cat.

However, the owner might not notice these symptoms because they are frequently faint and fleeting.

2] Asymptomatic stage: The asymptomatic stage of infection lasts the longest, for years or perhaps the entire lifetime of the cat. The virus does not create any observable symptoms of illness during this stage, and it remains dormant in the body.

The cat seems to be in good health and appears normal, but it still contains the virus and can spread it to other cats.

3] Progressive stage: The cat’s immune system is severely weakened during the progressive stage of infection, which is also when secondary infections or diseases start to appear.

These could be viral illnesses like feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)[1] or feline leukemia virus (FeLV)[2], bacterial infections of the skin, mouth, eyes, ears, or urinary tract, fungal infections of the respiratory system or skin, parasitic infections of the gastrointestinal tract or blood, or cancers like lymphoma or leukemia.

Weight loss, poor coat quality, persistent diarrhea, anemia, neurological abnormalities, and organ failure are just a few of the symptoms that these illnesses might cause, depending on their type and severity. The cat often enters the progressive stage when it is older than 5 years old.

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How Is FIV Transmitted?

The main mode of transmission for FIV is through bite wounds from an infected cat. This is because the virus is present in high concentrations in the saliva of infected cats.

Bite wounds are common among outdoor cats that fight for territory or mates. Therefore, unneutered male cats that roam freely are at the highest risk of contracting FIV.

How Is FIV Transmitted

There may be more FIV transmission methods, however they are less common.

These include sexual transmission through mating, horizontal transmission through sharing food bowls or grooming equipment with an infected cat, and vertical transmission from an infected mother cat to her kittens during pregnancy or nursing.

However, unless there is blood contact involved, these routes are ineffective and unlikely to cause infection.

Both humans and other animals are immune to the spread of FIV. It is a virus that exclusively infects cats and is species-specific.

How Is FIV Diagnosed?

A blood test used to diagnose FIV looks for antibodies to the infection. Proteins called antibodies are created by the immune system to defend against external intruders like viruses. The cat has likely been exposed to FIV at some time in its life if antibodies are present.

How Is FIV Diagnosed

This test does have some restrictions and difficulties, though. First of all, antibodies may not form and become detectable in the blood for up to 8 weeks following exposure. Therefore, if the cat was recently bitten by an infected cat, a negative test result does not rule out infection.

Second, due to their compromised immune systems, some cats may not develop enough antibodies to be identified by the test. Therefore, if the cat has additional circumstances that influence its generation of antibodies, a positive test result does not confirm infection.

Thirdly, there’s a chance that some cats in nations where a vaccine is available have had a FIV vaccination. A positive test result therefore does not suggest a spontaneous infection if the cat has had vaccinations.

Other tests may be used to confirm or exclude FIV infection to get around these restrictions and difficulties.

These include IFA (immunofluorescence test), which detects viral antigens in white blood cells under a microscope, PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which detects viral DNA in the blood, and ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), which detects viral antigens (components of the virus) in the blood.

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How Is FIV Treated?

FIV cannot be cured and there are no particular antiviral medications available to treat it. With the right care and control, FIV-positive cats can live long, robust lives. The basic objectives of treatment are to strengthen the cat’s immune system and to keep it healthy overall.

According to PetMD, “Unfortunately, there is no cure for FIV in cats, but there are treatment options that can help your FIV-positive cat live a healthy life.”

How Is FIV Treated

Cats with FIV should be kept indoors to avoid interaction with other cats or potential sources of infection in order to prevent subsequent infections and illnesses. To lower the chance of mating or fighting, they should also be spayed or neutered.

As advised by their veterinarian, they should have routine veterinary exams and vaccines. They should also receive treatments for fleas and ticks, deworming, and heartworm prevention in order to prevent and control parasites.

Cats with FIV should receive the proper medications and therapies as recommended by their veterinarian to treat any existing illnesses.

Depending on the kind and severity of the ailment, they may include antibiotics, antifungals, antiparasitics, anti-inflammatories, immunomodulators, or chemotherapy.

Additionally, they should have supportive care like hydration therapy, dietary supplements, or pain medication as necessary.

To keep their immune systems and general health strong, FIV-positive cats should be fed premium, nutritionally-balanced cat food. Furthermore, they must always have access to fresh water.

They need to live in a hygienic, stress-free environment that is stimulating and enriching. Additionally, their owners ought to provide them a lot of love and attention.

How To Prevent FIV?

Limiting the amount of time cats are exposed to the virus is the greatest approach to avoid FIV. The steps below can be used to do this:

How To Prevent FIV
  • Keep your cat inside, or keep an eye on it when it ventures outside.
  • To lessen your cat’s urge to roam or engage in conflict, spay or neuter them.
  • Before exposing your cat to other cats in your home or community, have them tested for FIV.
  • Keep your cat away from other cats that are FIV-positive or suspected to be so.
  • If another cat is FIV-positive or thought to be so, do not share food dishes or grooming supplies with them.
  • If there is a vaccine for FIV available in your country, think about giving your cat the shot. Be mindful, though, that the vaccine has some side effects and could affect how FIV is diagnosed.
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What are the symptoms of FIV in cats?

Cats with FIV may not initially exhibit any symptoms. Weight loss, recurring infections, dental issues, and general weakness are some symptoms as the illness worsens..

Is FIV transmissible to humans?

The feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV for short, is a virus that weakens cats’ immune systems. It is comparable to HIV in people but is not communicable to people or other animals.

How do cats get infected to FIV?

Cat bite wounds from an infected cat are the principal route by which cats contract FIV. This may take place during altercations or territorial conflicts.

Outdoor cats, particularly unneutered males, are more likely to contract FIV. A mother cat who is sick occasionally transmits the virus to her kittens while giving birth or feeding them.

Is there a cure for FIV in cats?

There is currently no treatment for FIV. Once a cat contracts the virus, it stays in their body for the rest of their life. However, management and supportive care can enhance their quality of life.


FIV is a virus that harms and impairs cats’ immune systems. The bites of diseased cats are the main method of transmission. The three stages of infection are the acute stage, the asymptomatic period, and the progressive stage. It is diagnosed with a blood test that looks for anti-virus antibodies.

It is treated by preventing new infections and diseases, increasing the cat’s immune system, and preserving its general health in addition to treating any existing illnesses. The infection can be avoided by shortening the time cats are exposed to it.

Cats with FIV are not doomed to death. FIV-positive cats can have long, robust lives with the right care and control. Consult your veterinarian for advice and direction if you have a cat that has FIV or believe that your cat might have the virus.


  1. Feline infectious peritonitis. (2023, March 2). Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
  2. Wikipedia contributors. (2023). Feline leukemia virus. Wikipedia.

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