Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is similar in nature to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). However, FIV is species-specific, meaning it affects only cats. The prevalence of this disease varies across the world. In North America, between 2.5% and 5% of cats are believed to be FIV-positive.
FIV attacks the immune system. In the acute phase, cats experience a temporary fever. After this, many cats can go on to live long and normal lives. Some cats later succumb to the disease, either due to severe infections or the development of cancer. But what does this mean for your cat? And if your cat has been diagnosed with FIV, does he or she need to be separated from any other cats in the house?
While this depends on your home situation, most of the time, an FIV-positive cat can happily live with other non-infected cats, provided they don’t fight.
Can FIV-Positive Cats Live With Other Cats?
FIV is transmitted by deep bite wounds. New research suggests that the risk of transmission via food and water bowls, shared resources, mutual grooming, and gentle play is minimal or even zero. For this reason, if your cats are “friends” that have happily co-existed for some time, the risk of the FIV-positive cat transmitting the virus to your other cat is minimal. If your cats are not friendly and have a tendency to fight, the only way to reduce the risk of viral transmission is to separate them.
How Is FIV Transmitted Among Cats?
FIV is transmitted via deep bite wounds, likely through saliva. However, the sharing of food and water bowls does not seem to spread the FIV virus through saliva. Instead, the bite itself seems to be important. Occasionally, a mother infected with FIV during pregnancy will transmit the virus to her fetus, who is then born as an FIV-positive cat.
My Cat Has Been Diagnosed With FIV. Can I Bring a New Cat into the Household?
You need to be careful with this. New cats often don’t get along, and fighting or displays of aggression are used to establish a hierarchy. Therefore, the risk of your new cat becoming infected with FIV as well is increased. If you must bring a new cat into the household, or if you plan to do so, it should be done slowly and judiciously.
Separate the new cats initially, and gently introduce them to each other, allowing them to become accustomed to their new housemate. This will reduce the risk of fighting and bites, and thus the risk of FIV transmission.
My Cat Has Been Diagnosed With FIV. Does This Mean My Other Cat Has FIV?
Not necessarily. If you have two or more cats in the household and one of them has been diagnosed with FIV, it is certainly worth getting all of the other cats tested for FIV. If they have a history of fighting, it is possible that other cats will be FIV-positive. If the cats have coexisted peacefully, there is a chance that only one cat is FIV-positive. Many cat shelters will routinely test for FIV prior to adopting cats out to a new home, but not always.
A diagnosis of FIV can be sad and overwhelming for any cat owner. Thankfully, new research suggests that you don’t necessarily need to be worried about transmission of the virus to your other cats, as long as they don’t fight or have a history of fighting.
To reduce the spread of FIV, it is advisable to keep FIV-positive cats indoors with access to secure and enclosed outdoor areas. Additionally, any new cat introductions should be carried out slowly and carefully. Finally, with appropriate care and regular veterinary consultation, many FIV-positive cats can live for many years without any signs of disease.
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