Feline Aids: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment - All About Cats (2023)

What Is Feline Aids (FIV)?

Feline AIDS (Feline Acquired Immune Deficiency) Syndrome) is a disease caused by FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus). As the name suggests, the syndrome hasparallels with Human AIDS, caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

Quick Overview: Feline Aids

Feline Aids: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment - All About Cats (1)Other Names: Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Feline Aids

Feline Aids: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment - All About Cats (2)Common Symptoms: Symptoms are due to secondary infection by other diseases and may include: Fever, lethargy, lymph node enlargement, poor appetite, gum and mouth inflammation, weight loss, abscesses, seizures, breathing difficulty, and others.

Feline Aids: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment - All About Cats (3)Diagnosis: FIV blood tests that detect FIV antibodies.

Feline Aids: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment - All About Cats (4)Diagnosed in Cats: Sometimes

Feline Aids: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment - All About Cats (5)Requires Ongoing Medication: No

Feline Aids: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment - All About Cats (6)Vaccine Available: Yes. But while a vaccine is available, it is not 100% effective and will cause a cat to be positive on FIV blood tests. Thus, prevention of FIV through reducing risk by keeping a cat indoors and limiting exposure to stray cats is preferred over vaccination.

Feline Aids: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment - All About Cats (7)Treatment Options: There is no treatment for FIV or feline aids specifically. Some antiviral medications have been tried but have variable results. Management focuses on regular health checks and treating secondary infections early if they develop.

Feline Aids: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment - All About Cats (8)Home Remedies: None

How Common Is Feline Aids?

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(Video) Dr. Becker Discusses Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Feline AIDS is common all around the world, but its prevalence varies from location to location. For example, in a 2017 study of cats in the USA and Canada, 3.6% of cats were positive. Cats that present as sick animals have a higher chance of being FIV positive (e.g. in the 2017 study, nearly 10% of cats with oral disease were FIV positive).

Similarly, in the UK, between three to six percent of healthy cats are positive, while sick cats tested while visiting vet clinics have a higher prevalence of 12 -18%.

FIV infection is more common in intact (uncastrated) male cats that have a history of deep bite wounds or abscesses, or that spend time outside.

What Causes Feline Aids?

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Feline AIDS is caused by Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). FIV is a retrovirus belonging to the lentivirus genus. The virus causes generalised immunosuppression, depleting specific white blood cells (T-helper cells).

This depletion in white blood cells has a strong negative effect on the cat’s immune system, making the cat more susceptible to infections and illness.

How Is Feline Aids Transmitted?

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The FIV virus causing Feline AIDS is mainly passed from cat to cat in the saliva via bite wounds.

The virus may also be transmitted from pregnant females to their offspring in the womb, or in early life via the milk. Rarely, the infection may transmit between two cats in the same household that have no history of fighting or biting each other.

Is Feline Aids Contagious To Humans?

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No. FIV, causing Feline AIDS, and HIV, causing Human AIDS, are both lentiviruses, but humans cannot be infected by FIV, nor can cats be infected by HIV.

What Are The Symptoms Of Feline Aids?

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Cats with Feline AIDS exhibit symptoms related to immunosuppression, including lethargy, inappetence, and fever.

(Video) Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) in Cats: Causes, Clinical Signs, Treatment & Prevention

The symptoms of Feline AIDS are linked to immunosuppression, which enables secondary infection by other disease-causing agents.

Typical Early Signs Include:

  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Fever
  • Lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes)

In the later stages of the disease, a range of serious signs of disease are seen, including:

  • Gingivitis and stomatitis with halitosis, drooling, and pain when eating
  • Weight loss
  • Abscesses
  • Respiratory signs (such as wheezing and dyspnea)
  • Neurological signs (such as behavioral changes and seizures)
  • Ocular issues
  • Digestive disorders

In addition to these issues, feline AIDS is connected to a wide variety of other intercurrent infections.

Cat FIV Stages

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Three Stages Follow FIV Infection.

1.The Primary Phase. This stage includes the first two to four months after infection with the virus. Some infected cats are asymptomatic, while other FIV cats show short-term signs of illness involving malaise, pyrexia, and possibly generalised lymph node enlargement. Most FIV positive cats recover from this early phase.

2. The Second Phase, sometimes known as the latent stage. During this stage, cats show no signs of illness, living healthy lives for months or years.

3. The Third Phase known as the Feline Acquired Immunodeficiency Disease stage (FAIDS). The signs shown may depend on where in the cat’s body the virus is active.

Infection of the nervous system can lead to neurological signs or behavior change, infection of the digestive system can lead to chronic diarrhoea. The most prominent signs are usually linked to the overall immunodeficiency caused by the virus, with signs including weight loss, inappetence, fever, lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes) and gingivitis.

Other typical problems include upper respiratory tract signs such as rhinitis (inflammation of the lining of the nose) and conjunctivitis, as well as repeated problems with skin infections. Affected cats are also at a higher risk of developing cancer (e.g. lymphoma) as well as multiple other infections that would not cause significant problems in cats with healthy immune systems.

How Long Do Cats Live With Feline Aids?

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(Video) How to support-boost immune system of an FIV positive cat? (A Vet Explains)

The prognosis for cats that are FIV positive, but without showing signs of illness, can be very good, with some cats living for almost as long as cats that are FIV negative. However, cats that have developed Feline AIDS, with severe signs of disease, have a poorer prognosis.

Their remaining lifespan may be just a few months, but with the right treatment, this may be extended to several years.

How Is FIV Diagnosed?

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Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is diagnosed by carrying out a blood test, with various options available.

Most tests that are carried out in-house by veterinarians are antibody tests, based on enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) or immunochromatographic (IC) techniques to detect FIV antibodies.

These tests are accurate, with high specificity and sensitivity. They can be processed rapidly, with the cat carer often waiting to hear the result within minutes. Often combination tests are used, with the blood sample being checked for Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) at the same time as FIV, which makes logical sense since the signs of both viral infections can be similar.

Positive results may be followed up by sending samples to external laboratories, which offer more specialised tests.

These are often used to doubly confirm a positive or negative diagnosis. Specialised tests include immunofluorescence (IFA) and western blot tests for the detection of antibodies to FIV, and virus isolation and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the detection of the virus itself.

Virus isolation is sensitive but needs specialised facilities, making it costly and slow compared to other diagnostic tests, so it’s rarely used.

PCR tests are now widely available, detecting the FIV nucleic acids. These are especially useful in the diagnosis of FIV infection in young kittens where antibodies derived from the infected mother cat may interfere with tests that use antibodies to make the diagnosis.

Feline Aids Test

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Feline AIDS describes the disease caused by the FIV virus, so there is no specific test for AIDS. If a cat with signs of AIDS has a positive test result for FIV, then they would be classified as being positive for Feline AIDS.

(Video) Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV), All about Kitty Aids

How To Treat Feline AIDS

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Cat carers should work closely with their DVM veterinarian to devise an individualised treatment strategy, but some of the following treatments may be used.

  • Zidovudine (AZT) blocks the viral reverse transcriptase enzyme, inhibiting infection of new cells with the virus, but it cannot decrease viral multiplication in cells that are already infected. AZT is most useful as a way of preventing cats from developing full-scale Feline AIDS, as well as for treating cats with neurologic disease or gingivostomatitis.
  • Interferon has been used, with its immunomodulatory and antiviral effects improving survival rates in some studies, while other studies have had less convincing results.
  • Lymphocyte T cell immune modulator (LTCI) stimulates the immune system and may be able to improve clinical signs and reduce the viral burden in affected cats.
  • Insulin, administered intra-nasally, has been linked to improvement in some cats affected with neurological signs of Feline AIDS.
  • General supportive therapy has a strong role to play, using antibiotics for bacterial infections, avoiding immunosuppressive medication like glucocorticoids, and perhaps erythropoietin to stimulate red blood cell production in anaemic cats. Blood transfusions may also be recommended in some cases.

How To Prevent Feline AIDS

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Indoor cats, kept as single pets, have no risk of picking up FIV or Feline AIDS. Neutering plays a role in prevention, as neutered male cats are 80% less likely to fight compared to entire male cats.

Spread is by direct cat to cat contact by fighting, rather than via the environment (e.g. via food bowls or a litter box) or aerosols. The FIV virus is easily destroyed using common detergents and disinfectants, and it does not live for long in the environment.

If a new cat is introduced to a household, it makes sense to carry out an FIV test first.

Cats that are known to be FIV positive should be kept indoors to prevent the spread of infection to other cats, as well as to reduce exposure of themselves to other infectious diseases. Effective parasite control, regular vaccination and high-quality nutrition are all important to reduce the onset of signs linked to a poor immune system.

Feline AIDS Vaccine

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At-risk cats may be given the feline AIDS vaccine, which addresses two types of FIV.

A whole virus, adjuvant vaccine against FIV is licensed in the United States. This vaccine contains inactivated subtypes A and D. Efficacy is variable. The vaccine does not contain subtype B, which is one of the predominant subtypes found in the USA. Inconsistent results have been found in challenge studies.

FIV vaccine is considered a non-core vaccine by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and may be reserved for cats with at-risk lifestyles (e.g. those living with FIV-positive housemates, outdoor cats that are prone to fighting).

(Video) 5 Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, FIV PART2 2

Cats over 8 weeks can be vaccinated, using two doses given subcutaneously 2-3 weeks apart, followed by annual booster vaccinations. Cats vaccinated with the FIV vaccine will test positive on serologic tests, so they need to be identified (eg with a microchip) so that it is known that they are vaccinated, and they are not mistaken as being FIV positive due to virus exposure.

Feline AIDS is a complex disease that’s now well understood.

The diagnosis of an FIV positive blood test is no longer a reason to euthanase a healthy cat, as many positive cats can have long and healthy lives.


What are the symptoms of Feline AIDS in cats? ›

Inflammation of the gums and severe dental disease, known as gingivostomatitis, is common in cats infected with FIV, and they are significantly more likely to develop cancer and immune-mediated blood disorders than healthy cats. Weight loss, seizures, behavioral changes and neurological disorders are all possible.

What causes AIDS in cats? ›

How do cats get FIV? Infected cats shed the virus mainly in their saliva. Naturally occurring transmission of an infection occurs when an infected cat that is actively shedding virus into the saliva bites another cat, directly inoculating its saliva through the bite wound.

Can cats live with Feline AIDS? ›

The amount of time it takes for the virus to make a cat become immune compromised can vary, but once symptomatic, FIV positive cats are more vulnerable to contracting other diseases. However, with the proper care, FIV positive cats can live healthy, happy lives.

How long do cats live if they have FIV? ›

Cats infected with FIV may live for months or years. On average, life expectancy is 5 years from the time of diagnosis depending on how active the infection is. There is a FIV vaccination given twice initially, then yearly thereafter for outside cats or cats exposed to outside cats due to the potential of cat bites.

How long can a cat have FIV before showing symptoms? ›

Once a cat is infected, then infection is permanent. Just as in human HIV infection, carriers of FIV may show no symptoms of the disease for years. Between two to five per cent of the UK cat population is thought to be infected, but there is a lot of regional and local variation. Un-neutered male cats are more at risk.

How do you take care of a cat with FIV? ›

Feed a nutritionally complete and balanced diet. Avoid uncooked food, such as raw meat and eggs, and unpasteurized dairy products to minimize the risk of food-borne bacterial and parasitic infections. Monitor your cat's health and behavior very carefully – alert your veterinarian of any changes as soon as possible.

How do you treat FIV in cats naturally? ›

Support your cat's immune system
  1. Feed a species appropriate, minimally processed diet grain-free canned or homecooked diet. ...
  2. Add quality supplements to boost the immune system, such as probiotics, digestive enzymes, and anti-oxidants.
  3. Minimize vaccinations.
  4. Don't use chemical flea and tick prevention products.
25 Oct 2022

Can a FIV positive cat live with other cats? ›

Yes, as long as the cats get along and do not fight. The risk that a FIV-positive cat could spread the virus to a FIV-negative cat can be minimized by having them live in separate rooms until you are confident that they will not fight with each other.

What are the final stages of FIV in cats? ›

Once a cat reaches the terminal phase, the prognosis is approximately two to three months. During this time, it's common to see severe infections, cancer, neurologic disease, immune-mediated disease, etc.

What can I feed my cat with FIV? ›

In general, cats with FIV do not need a special diet.
Choose a commercial diet.
  1. Dry food usually contains plant-based proteins (grains, vegetables). ...
  2. Semi-moist cat food is another option. ...
  3. On the food label, look for a certification from the Association of American Feed Control officials.

Can FIV be spread through water bowls? ›

Question: Can FIV be spread through casual contact, such as cats sharing the same food or water bowls, or cats grooming each other? NO! FIV is transmitted to other felines primarily through deep, penetrating bite wounds. Casual contact of cats living in the same household does not spread the virus.

Can you touch a cat with FIV? ›

As FIV can't be transmitted to humans or other non-feline animals, an FIV positive cat is able to share his or her environment with a dog or other pet, as long as there are no other cats.

Is it expensive to care for a cat with FIV? ›

Treatment for the feline immunodeficiency virus is quite expensive. According to estimates, the cost range from $150 to $2,000 per treatment.

Do FIV cats sleep more? ›

FIV-infected cats spent 50% more time awake than the sham-inoculated controls and exhibited many more sleep/waking stage shifts--i.e., 40% more than controls. In addition, FIV-infected cats showed approximately 30% of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep reduction compared to controls.

Do cats with FIV get sick often? ›

Since cats with FIV have lowered immune systems, they're more likely to get sick from parasites, fungal infections, and other diseases. You may also see behavioral changes in your cat if they've acquired FIV. Cats who are diagnosed with FIV live a median of five years after their disease statuses have been confirmed.

Do cats with FIV need to stay indoors? ›

Cats primarily pick up the virus through fighting via bite wounds or through mating behaviour. Cats Protection recommends that FIV-positive cats are kept indoors and only allowed outside in an impenetrable garden or safe run. They should not be allowed direct contact with FIV-negative cats.

Should I give my FIV positive cat vitamins? ›

To care for a FIV infected cat, feed it a nutritious diet of dry kibble, which is less likely to cause build-up on its teeth and lead to infections. Additionally, try to boost your cat's vitamins by giving it vitamin E, Vitamin A, or zinc. Make sure to stick to a routine, like feeding it at the same time each day.

What foods boost cats immune system? ›

Ideally, this means a raw or homecooked diet, with a grain-free canned diet being the next best choice. Highly processed foods, especially dry food, create a constant state of inflammation in the body that may well be at the root of all feline illness.

How do you boost a cat's immune system? ›

Diet:Cats need to be on a diet that is rich in antioxidants, fatty acids and proteins and amino acids. Exercise:Create an environment for your cat that gives it ample opportunity to exercise and have physical activity.

Do probiotics help cats with FIV? ›

How can I help my FIV+ cat stay healthy? A good quality diet and keeping the cat indoors are important. Probiotics have also proven to be effective for boosting the cat's immune system.

Can FIV be spread through litter box? ›

FIV typically does NOT spread through cats grooming each other, sharing food and water bowls, or sharing a litter box. A cat who tests positive for FIV can live with a cat who tests negative as long as they get along and aren't aggressive toward one another to the extent of serious (not play) biting.

Do cats with FIV need medication? ›

Medications: Anti-viral drugs (e.g., AZT) can help some cats with FIV, but treatment is usually limited to supportive care and dealing with secondary health concerns as they arise. Diet: Good nutrition is essential to maintaining optimal immune function in FIV positive cats.

Which is worse feline leukemia or FIV? ›

Feline Leukemia (FeLV) is much more devastating than FIV. This is because FeLV typically results in cancer (e.g., lymphoma), leukemia (e.g., cancer of the bone marrow or circulating white and red blood cells), and severe bone marrow suppression (e.g. anemia) in young cats.

Can FIV live on clothes? ›

FIV is transmitted via saliva between cats that fight and bite their competition. Mothers can pass it onto their kittens. It cannot be transmitted when holding, petting, or cuddling a FIV-positive cat, and the virus cannot live on surfaces or clothing.

Can FIV cause neurological problems? ›

These results indicate that FIV causes an acute neurological disease that closely resembles the early neurological effects of HIV infection in humans and should serve well as an animal model for lentivirus-induced CNS disease.

Which is worse FeLV or FIV? ›

Feline Leukemia (FeLV) is much more devastating than FIV. This is because FeLV typically results in cancer (e.g., lymphoma), leukemia (e.g., cancer of the bone marrow or circulating white and red blood cells), and severe bone marrow suppression (e.g. anemia) in young cats.

Does FHV shorten a cat's life? ›

Feline Herpesvirus can be fatal for kittens

Yes. However, in most cases, cats can live long lives after contracting feline herpesvirus. Kittens and older cats are at an increased risk of death after contracting herpes virus. Unfortunately, kittens born to a cat with herpesvirus will likely become infected.

Is FIV a big deal? ›

FIV simply means a cat's immune system MAY be compromised somewhere down the road. FIV is a lentivirus, which is very slow acting and usually won't affect a cat for 7 to 10 years. Most FIV cats live long, healthy, normal lives with no symptoms at all. FIV cats need the exact same good care you give to ANY cat.


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