This page: Cats with FIV need everyone to understand the realities of the virus. Find out how the FIV virus really affects cats, and their owners.

Introduction to FIV

FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) is one of the fairly common cat viruses, but it is much misunderstood....

Cats with FIV need everyone to understand the realities of the virus.

We have had many cats with FIV in our sanctuary, several with us for ten years or more and, in general terms, they have been both healthy and happy and living a full (but protected) life.

We know that FIV is a much misunderstood virus and, over the years, this misunderstanding has resulted in many otherwise healthy cats being euthanased - quite unnecessarily. So it is important for everyone to understand at least the basics about the virus.

The FIV virus reduces a cat's immune system, slowly (over several years) this can leave it more vulnerable to other feline infections later in life
- That is all -
in itself FIV is not life threatening.

FIV is cats-only, it CANNOT be transmitted to humans


What are the biggest misunderstandings?

Most people don't realise that:
Most cats with FIV have a strong immune system
- it is only after many years that there may be sufficient decline for the effects of the virus to be evident - most FIV cats are perfectly healthy for most of their lives. Even for those who start to show effects, most infections can be handled by appropriate medications.

So why has this misunderstanding come about?

The FIV cats that do suffer, are those that are long-term strays, who have survived on a poor diet and probably been involved in fights, with subsequent injuries going untreated - this is the scenario that leads to the suffering that is wrongly thought to be common to all FIVs. These are also the FIV cats which vets and rescue groups are most likely to come across.

In our experience, FIV positive cats can have, and deserve to have, a long and healthy life. Like all cats, they need careful attention to their general health and diet, but this is no more than any cat should receive.

A properly cared for FIV cat need not have a shortened life expectancy.

The effectiveness of all cats' immune systems reduce with age. Not many would recommend euthanasia just because a cat is getting elderly, so why so with FIV?

Why is FIV so feared by some?

It is a combination of the misunderstanding about the health implications, and the fact that the virus can be transmitted to other cats (only cats - no other species).

In the vast majority of cases, it is transmitted through biting. Cats fight for three main reasons: food, territory and mating. By providing a regular food supply and neutering, the need to fight is dramatically reduced, making the transmission of FIV far less likely.

Euthanasia of FIV cats is a vast over reaction, but it still happens due to a lack of understanding about the true nature of the virus.

There are many unidentified FIV cats everywhere, and most cats will come in contact with ones carrying the virus at some point, but, without fighting, there is no reason for them to become infected.

Eradicating the virus is not currently a realistic objective; and, putting to sleep a few individuals identified with the virus but otherwise healthy, is a futile reaction to the misunderstandings.


Correcting some of the basic misconceptions about FIV:

1     FIV is not in itself a life-threatening disease
2     FIV does not 'destroy' the immune system
3     FIV is not 'Cat AIDS'
4     FIV is not contagious
5     FIV does not necessarily shorten life expectancy.
6     FIV cats do not have to be segregated
7     FIV cannot be transferred to other species (animal or human)


FIV is a virus that affects the cat's immune system, it acts very slowly, and it is often several years before the cat shows any signs of a damaged immune system - many never suffer at all!

In time, FIV can make a cat more susceptible to other infections, but these can be dealt with in just the same way as with any other cat.

In any animal (and human), their immune response varies in effectiveness from time to time depending on their general health. When we get run-down what do we do? - We take a tonic, get more sleep, have better food, take a holiday, we then regain our strength. The same is true of FIV positive cats - with good care, good food, and security, and preventing stressful circumstances, they seem to recover from most secondary infections just like non-FIV cats.

But, you may say, I have been told of FIV cats who are very ill

The FIV cats that have problems are the strays who have no-one looking after them - these can fall prey to all the other infections around, usually brought about through fighting for food, territory or females, and without treatment, these can escalate. It is mostly the un-neutered toms that fight, and therefore pick up and spread the virus. When one of these is captured and taken to a vet, suffering from all manner of secondary infections, it is not clear how much influence the FIV has had, but the fact that they test positive will give the impression that their poor health is due to the virus; whereas it is the environment in which they have been living that has caused the poor condition, not the FIV.

These are the cats who have led to the undeserved fear about FIV.

It is the nature of a vet's work, that they will see many more ill cats than healthy ones, whereas in fact, there are very many more healthy FIV cats than ill ones - they just don't need to see the vet! - take a look at the photos of the FIV cats in our sanctuary (on the sanctuary page) and decide for yourself whether they look healthy or not - most have no need to see a vet from one end of the year to another.
You can also see photos of many hundreds of individual FIV cats from our '1000 FIV cats' worldwide survey, which lists well over a thousand FIV cats living in normal homes (FIV gallery). You can also click on any of those photos to read their owner's report on them.

Visitors to our sanctuary often express surprise "We expected to see loads of ill cats, but they all look so happy and healthy!" - Yes, that's because they are!

FIV is not the terrible thing it is made out to be, it is no more than a weakness!

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A couple of quick examples of FIV cats (more details available, see below):

Patrick came to us in 1999 in a poor state, very thin and with little fur on his back.

Patrick on arrival

Patrick needed nothing more than good general care; he soon recovered and turned into a truly remarkable cat

Patrick the following year

Nick was diagnosed as FIV at one of the national 'rescue' organisations. As he was also very frightened, and in a generally poor state, he was destined to be put to sleep - until we were told about him, and he came to us.

Nick on arrival in 2004

Nick, like Patrick, needed nothing more than basic good care - no special medications or supplements, just good, regular food, and general care.

Nick in Feb 2007

For more details of these and other examples of FIV cats who have taught us so much, follow these links:

and our latest example to show the healing powers still retained by an FIV cat: