What is FIV in cats?

FIV typically causes a cat’s immune system to weaken.  It is comparable to HIV in humans, however, only cats get FIV.  The most common means of transmission is a deep bite wound from an FIV-positive cat to another cat.  Other means of transmission are via blood, in utero and from milk from an infected mother cat.

It’s very rare for cats to get FIV just by being around infected cats or sharing food or being touched by someone who has touched an infected cat.  FIV negative and FIV positive cats can live together without the infection being transmitted.

While FIV positive cats are more susceptible to infections such as dental disease, ringworm, and upper respiratory infections, the cat’s life expectancy is normal.

TESTING FOR FIV – A blood test called an Elisa test, also known as a Snap test is done by your veterinarian.  A cat can test positive 2-4 weeks or up to 8 weeks after exposure.  Kittens less than 6 months old may have a false negative.  It’s best to test kittens older than 6 months old.


  • Keep your cat indoors only
  • While I strongly advocate keeping all pet cats indoors for their own safety, it is absolutely imperative that you keep FIV positive cats indoors. These cats have an infectious disease and you don’t want to infect other cats.  Even if your cat cries and cries to go out, eventually kitty will adjust to being an indoor cat.

FEEDING – do not feed kitty any raw foods, as uncooked foods may contain pathogens or parasites that can wreak havoc on an immune-compromised cat.

VACCINATION – vaccinating FIV positive cats is controversial because vaccinating may encourage the virus to activate.  Unless required by law, if your cat lives indoors only and no other cats live outdoors, then forgoing vaccination is reasonable.

In summation:  discuss the best ways to help maintain your cat’s health with your veterinarian.



Feline leukemia is a transmittable RNA retrovirus.  In short, retroviruses are enveloped viruses that belong to the viral family.  Retroviruses are a type of virus that uses a special enzyme called reverse transcriptase to translate its genetic information into DNA.  The DNA can then integrate into the cell’s DNA.  This virus can severely inhibit a cat’s immune system and is one of the most common causes of disease and death in domestic cats.  Every newly adopted cat should be tested because symptoms don’t appear right away.

Cats with feline leukemia have drastically abnormal numbers of white blood cells, either higher or lower than normal.  This causes severe infections and tumors.  Leukemia in cats is contagious to other cats and ultimately fatal.


Cats can get heartworm when mosquitoes carry infective heartworm larvae enter a cat’s body when a mosquito feeds.  The larvae migrate from the bite wound through the body of the cat, then they mature until they reach the heart and blood vessels of the cat‘s lungs as adults.

Cats with heartworm cannot be treated in the same way as dogs with heartworm, because the drug of choice used to treat dogs, Melarsomine, is toxic to cats.   Therefore, heartworm in cats is managed with corticosteroids such as prednisone or prednisolone for their anti-inflammatory effects.


  • Labored breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing

Other symptoms may include fainting or seizures or fluid accumulation in the abdomen.  One symptom that cats (but not dogs) may have is intermittent vomiting not related to eating.

Treatment for heartworm often continues until the adult worms die and are cleared from the lungs.  This is a two to three-year process.


In heartworm endemic areas cats should receive preventive medication beginning at 8 weeks old.  While it‘s best for cats to live totally indoors, there is no 100% guarantee a cat won’t get heartworm.

ASK YOUR VET – if your cat has been screened for heartworm disease, or should be on preventive medication and if so, how should it be administered?  What symptoms should you look out for?


RINGWORM – signs of ringworm include red lesions on the cat’s chest, head, a ridge of the back of forelegs.  There can be scaling, crusting, thickening and reddening.  Hair loss on the tail or back is also a symptom.  Ringworm is contagious – exposure to contaminated bedding or grooming utensils are ways to contract heartworm.

HIGH-RISE SYNDROME – this one was new to me!  It’s the phenomenon of cats falling higher than two stories and also refers to injuries from these falls.

DIABETES – there is a surprisingly large number of cats developing diabetes mellitus.  Diabetes is the inability to produce enough insulin to balance blood sugar (glucose) levels.  An untreated diabetic cat can be vomiting, have a loss of appetite, experience motor function problems, dehydration, coma and possibly death.

If you notice that your cat is increasingly thirsty, urinating more frequently, is less active, losing his appetite, lethargic, having difficulty walking, vomiting, please see your vet as soon as possible.

Treatment of diabetes may include oral medications, insulin, dietary changes.  An overweight cat may be placed on a diet.  Cats who get proper treatment for their diabetes can enjoy a normal life expectancy.

We all love our cats.   They are part of our family, loving us and being loved.  Cats trust us to take good care of them.  The best way to honor that trust is to provide them with a warm and loving home and taking them to the vet for both regular checkups and vet care when they are sick.