We hear more and more these days about cats that are FIV+. I know from the people I’ve talked to recently that people tend to want to shy away from cats once they learn they are FIV+, especially when it comes to the adoption world. The reality is, an FIV+ cat can still live and long and happy life.
What does FIV+ mean?
FIV stands for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus is slow moving, and the cat’s immune system is severely weakened, which can open the cat up to all sorts of infections. Infected cats who receive supportive medical care and are kept in a stress-free, indoor environment can live relatively comfortable lives for months or even years before the disease reaches its chronic stages.
What are the symptoms of FIV?
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Weight loss
- Disheveled coat
- Poor appetite
- Abnormal appearance or inflammation of the eye (conjunctivitis)
- Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis)
- Inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis)
- Dental disease
- Skin redness or hair loss
- Wounds that don’t heal
- Discharge from eyes or nose
- Frequent urination, straining to urinate or urinating outside of litter box
- Behavior change
To help shed a light on what it is like to have and care for a cat with FIV, I have asked my wonderful friend, Stephanie Huffman, to share her experience with us regarding her FIV+ cats, Grayson and Molly.
Tina: Tell us a little about Grayson and how you met.
Stephanie: Grayson was a stray running around my neighborhood for quite some time. He used to swing by and drink water out of our dog’s water bowl in the back yard. We would see him every once in a while over about a year or so.
During this same time frame, we would cat-sit for a neighbor who had taken in another neighborhood stray named Molly. She was as sweet and friendly as could be and was an indoor/outdoor kitty.
It was the summer of 2014 that I saw Grayson reappear, this time following Molly around the neighborhood. She had been spayed some time ago, but Grayson wasn’t neutered, so he and another male thought Molly was quite a pretty girl. She treated them both like they had a bad case of fleas.
Soon after, the neighbors who owned Molly informed us they were moving out of state and leaving her behind because the wife didn’t like that she had accidents outside the litterbox. This broke my family’s heart, so we decided we would start to take care of Molly as an indoor/outdoor kitty and began to feed her before her people moved away. Grayson decided to get in on the new buffet his girl crush was enjoying and started hanging around our house.
He was thin, constantly scratching, and sneezing all the time. He would sit out in the yard and watch us from a distance, never coming too close or eating until we went inside. Over a few weeks, he’d let me touch him if food was nearby. Finally, one day he let me put him on my lap to pet him.
I knew he needed vet care since he was finally trusting us. We figured we’d make him an outdoor kitty (since I still had many inside and adding one new addition was going to be hard enough) and get him all cleaned up, then neutered.
We got him to the vet and had him tested. He came back FIV+ and my heart broke. I’d never had a cat who had a disease. I didn’t want him to make my cats sick. I immediately began to worry that Molly might be the same since they were outside together so much and, again, I didn’t know much about how FIV worked.
I did research as much as I could before calling my vet and saw maybe a slight chance of hope for him, but it meant adding two new cats to my house of five.
Many thoughts went through my head for the safety of my indoor cats, because they deserved to be my priority. I called my vet to ask some questions and she dropped another bombshell on me: when taking x-rays to make sure his upper respiratory infection wasn’t worse, they’d found several pellets from a BB gun in his body. While they weren’t causing him any issues at the time, he’d been shot at least six times.
I didn’t need any more prompting. People had shown him their worst and I was going to show him love. There was a risk that this might not work out, but I was determined to try to get him better and give him a home.
We had Molly taken to the vet a few days later and although she was perfectly healthy, she also tested positive for FIV.
This meant neither of them could go back outside where they could spread the disease, so I had quite a challenge ahead.
Grayson was a perfect gentleman when he came in the house (except he wasn’t and still isn’t a fan of the dog). He got along with all my cats. Molly also did well with everyone except one cat who bullied her. I can say now, present day, they all get along just fine and I even introduced another cat to the house in the last year, who is FIV negative.
Tina: Can you dispel some myths about FIV+ cats?
- FIV is only transmitted from cat to cat.
Humans and other animals are not at risk of getting the disease. It can only be transmitted via mother cats to kittens at birth (which is very rare) and is most frequently passed through deep bite wounds (AKA horrible catfights).
Grayson and Molly have swatting contests with other cats (and each other) around feeding times, but we don’t have the kind of fights you might hear out in the neigborhood on a warm summer night when cats are on the prowl.
- FIV does not mean your cat is going to die soon. Cats with FIV can live long, normal lives.
Again, Molly was completely healthy when we found out and she still has shown no signs of a compromised immune system.
Grayson came to us sick. His immune system was weakened when he was shot with the BB gun and forced to heal on his own through so much trauma. By the time he’d come around me, he was sneezing blood and colored mucus from a severe upper respiratory infection, he was severely underweight, and would scratch constantly from allergies. My vet and I got him on the road to recovery. He had another setback with stomatitis in 2015, but since that time, he’s gotten a bit chunky and is quite pleased with himself. Basically, getting sick also doesn’t mean a death sentence.
Most cats actually can live out their whole lives with relatively no complications. It’s usually old age related illnesses that creep up and make the cat sick – which often happens in FIV free cats as well.
The information doesn’t end here! To hear more of Grayson and Molly’s story, stay tuned for Part II.
Tina Whitehair, Feline Editor, currently works as an Administrative Specialist to the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the UGA School of Law in Athens, GA. She grew up in West Virginia where she had multiple cats for most of her life. She loves both cats and dogs (and baby elephants). She currently has two cats: a 2 year old male Maine Coon, Stormy, whom she rescued, and a 1.5 year old domestic short hair black male, Charming. Her hobbies include crocheting, writing, martial arts and Thai Fit kickboxing. Tina can be reached at: email@example.com