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FIV Positive Cats: Can You Let Them Live?
FIV: A Death Sentence?
This used to be the case, without pause or question. There was much fear surrounding the initial discovery of this virus, much as with the human HIV (which causes AIDS) virus.
You did not dare keep a cat that tested positive; you certainly did not expose your own cats to the FIV positive kitty, and the only accepted solution was to kill the infected cat at the hands of a veterinarian: the act "sanitized" by calling it euthanasia.
Sadly, this is still very much the practice to this day, even at 'no kill' shelters, where no healthy animal is put down. The outdated information that abounds, unfortunately leads them to consider the FIV positive cats as 'unhealthy,' and not adoptable.
Nothing is further from the truth, as we shall see.
"Wolfman," A Cute Little Kitten
Myths Explode On Exposure To Truth
In the first place, FIV is not the killer of cats that it was once thought to be.
- The virus itself is quite fragile, and can only live outside the body for a few seconds to a couple of hours, depending on conditions.
- It is not transmissible through the air, by coughs or sneezes, etc.
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is a very, very slow-growing virus; most cats will die of old age before the virus reaches a point of being lethal.
- It is very rare for a mother cat to pass the disease on to her kittens
- If your cats do not fight with each other, they can live in perfect safety with an FIV positive kitty.
- This is strictly a cat strain; neither humans, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, or other pets can become infected
- (About that 'F' in FIV: F=feline; feline=cat) ;-)
My Cat Tested Positive! Now What Should I Do?
The first thing to do, is actually a thing not to do, and that is panic. Panic won't help, and it is not warranted. You should know these things before you rush to a decision you may well deeply regret:
- The current tests used (ELISA being the most common) are subject to false positives in over 20% of cases--even higher with kittens.
- The test does not detect the actual virus; only the antibodies against it.
- Kittens may show false positives because of antibodies gained from the mother cat through nursing (if the mother cat had an actual active FIV virus )
This last point is double the tragedy, because so many healthy kittens have been put down just because they showed a positive test. Yes, they may have had the virus; but it's far more likely that they were tested too young, and were still showing mom's antibodies.
For this reason, kittens should not be tested for FIV prior to about 6 - 8 months of age, giving their systems time to shed the inherited antibodies.
In Memoriam: RIP, Sweet Panda
A Needless Loss Of A Life
"Panda," the kitten in the 2 photos just above, was being fostered for our local rescue and adoption group. He was my daughter's foster, and she had spent hours upon hours with this group, tenderly caring for them, working with the terrible eye infections they had when they arrived, and even teaching them to use the litter box.
"Panda" and his sister were the two shiest, and she had them out of their shells, and all ready for adoption when the tragedy of a positive FIV test struck. She was beside herself with grief, and dreads what may come of the others.
One of the others group came in with the worst eyes of the bunch; they are now clear. He was also very underweight, coming in at less than a pound. (Kittens should weigh/gain approximately a pound per month of age up until about 8 or 9 months old.) "Tiny," as she calls him, is finally filling out, and has hit the 1 pound mark. Still underweight for a 2-month-old kitty, but making strong progress.
As of this writing, (7-24-17) I and several others are fighting for a change in policy of both our own rescue group, and that of others, as well as veterinarians we use, to stop this unnecessary killing of beautiful young kittens.
Poor "Panda" baby was just a little over 2 months old.
What Do You Think?
Would You Adopt An FIV Positive Cat?
But, How Is FIV Transmitted?
The most common way for FIV to be transmitted is via deep bite wounds. Those are extremely rare, if not unheard of altogether in household cats, but instead happen in unaltered feral populations where territorial and mating disputes happen.
It's basically a blood-to-blood transfer, again, unlikely in household pets. Even in the feral populations, a bite wound is saliva-to-blood, and unless the biting cat is bleeding in or near the mouth, I would think it would not be likely to happen then, either.
The Cat Can Live A Normal, Happy Life
FIV positive cats can, and do, live long and otherwise healthy, happy lives. Putting them down is the ultimate tragedy. It is so uncalled for.
From what we have learned so far, we see that the virus acts slowly, so that kitties testing positive will, in the vast majority of cases, live long enough to die from old age, and complications of aging well before the virus has a chance to do them in.
The false positive problem is so prevalent that it makes the entire testing program essentially bogus and a waste of time and money, not to mention the stress caused to the people fostering kittens, or the owners of a cat that tests positive.
It Sounds Counter-Intuitive, But...
FIV POSITIVE CATS SHOULD NEVER, EVER,
BE VACCINATED AGAINST ANYTHING. EVER.
Why? The vaccines themselves can cause a disruption in the immune system, acting as they do, to trigger the immune system to make antibodies to those other diseases. Instead, because the immune system is weak, kitty could instead come down with the disease supposed to be prevented by the vaccine, and cause the FIV to accelerate to the detriment of the cat from secondary infections.
Also, though there is now an FIV vaccine, most veterinarians do not recommend it, because it has been linked to injection-site sarcoma; a type of cancer.
This is discussed in the video just below.
A Veterinarian Discusses FIV
Care And Feeding OF FIV Positive Cats
To be sure, FIV positive cats should be given some extra care, but this is no harder than what you'd normally expect to do for them. And Please, whatever you do, be sure they stay indoors only.
Take them for their annual or semi-annual veterinary check ups, and they can live a normal, healthy, and full life.
Keep the household running as normal, and feel free to play with kitty as you would any other cat. You don't need to act as if you have a deathly ill animal that may pass away at any moment. They aren't going to break if they run and chase toys. Enjoy them, and be grateful for their furry presence, and pat yourself on the back that you gave them the chance to live as they were meant to.
Looking For More Resources?
Today, I came across an article on Hub Pages, which has a very comprehensive list, by states, of various rescue organizations that take in and preserve FIV positive cats. Please check it out.
You can save a life by adopting one or more of these kitties, or you can call them for information, and educational materials for your own local rescues or shelters, if they are still stuck in the 'dark ages' of needless killing of these cats.
With a little help, we can make this unsavory practice a thing of the past.
What Is FIV? (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from http://www.fivcatrescue.org/fiv-what-is-fiv.html
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/Health_Information/brochure_fiv.cfm
Cat FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from http://pets.webmd.com/cats/cat-fiv-feline-immunodeficiency-virus
Dr. Becker Discusses Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UW06wBpiaWI
© 2017 Liz Elias