Two cats looking out of a window together.
Two cats looking out of a window together. Photography by By Okssi | Shutterstock.

Can FIV+ Cats Live With Other Cats? Finally, a Study That Says ‘Yes’

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Today in News of the Obvious: FIV-positive cats can live with other uninfected cats and not transmit the virus. A veterinary study concludes this. Finally.

Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine conducted a long-term study in cat shelters and drew two conclusions: FIV-positive cats can live with FIV-negative cats and not infect the FIV-negative cats during normal day-to-day interaction; and mother cats infected with FIV don’t pass the virus on to their kittens. The study was conducted by Dr. Annette L. Litster of the college’s Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences.

Cat in a shelter cage by Shuttestock.
Cat in a shelter cage by Shuttestock

Cat lovers and rescuers have known this for many years, and they’ve repeatedly crusaded to stop the superstitions about FIV that have led to who knows how many cats being needlessly killed in shelters.

Misguided beliefs about FIV-positive cats have also led to long stays — sometimes as long as the cat’s whole life — for the FIVers lucky enough to be placed in no-kill shelters. There is no need for FIV cats to be adopted only into homes with other FIV-positive cats; the disease is transmitted only by deep bite wounds, which happen only if the cats get into intense fights. Proper introductions and consideration of the individual cats’ personalities should go a long way to prevent such fights.

Mother cat nursing her kittens by Shutterstock.
Research has shown that FIV is not transmitted from mother cats to kittens. Mother cat nursing her kittens by Shutterstock

I know this from experience: When I was much younger, my family had a tomcat who developed FIV as a result of fighting for mates with other intact males. But he was never aggressive with his feline housemates. They shared food and water bowls, beds and sometimes even groomed one another. None of the other cats developed FIV; in fact, his best lady friend, Iris, lived to be 18 and she was very healthy right up until the end of her life.

The false belief that mother cats can pass FIV on to their kittens has probably resulted in thousands upon thousands of unnecessary euthanasias. Although the world certainly has many more cats than it needs, it’s a damn shame that so many otherwise adoptable kittens may have died as a result of these incorrect ideas.

Grooming doesn't spread FIV. Two cats grooming one another by Shutterstock.
Grooming doesn’t spread FIV. Two cats grooming one another by Shutterstock

Another problem: People often confuse FIV (the feline immunodeficiency virus) for FeLV (the feline leukemia virus), which is transmissible through cohabitation and casual contact. These two diseases are retroviruses and both affect the immune system. The difference? The feline immunodeficiency virus does not easily cross the mucous membranes (the lining of the mouth, nose, eyes, genitals, and intestines), which is why it’s so difficult for FIV to be transmitted to other cats.

Proper introductions will prevent fights that lead to injury and possible transmission of FIV. Cats sniffing one another by Shutterstock.
Proper introductions will prevent fights that lead to injury and possible transmission of FIV. Cats sniffing one another by Shutterstock

There’s no need to fear FIV, and I’m delighted that we finally have an official veterinary study that confirms what a lot of us have known for decades. I hope to all things cute and furry that this knowledge spreads rapidly among shelters so they don’t unwittingly torpedo their FIVers’ chances of being adopted or, worse yet, kill them because of the fear that the disease will spread rapidly.

Thank you, Dr. Litster, for conducting this research and reporting on it: you’ve already started saving cats’ lives.

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

30 thoughts on “Can FIV+ Cats Live With Other Cats? Finally, a Study That Says ‘Yes’”

  1. Yes, that is true. I had an FIV positive kitten and when she was 6 months old she tested negative. We re-tested her years later, still negative. They get the anti-bodies in their system from nursing which causes the initial positive test.

  2. I rescued 5 newborn kittens who got the virus from their mother, so there is incorrect information here. I didn’t euthanize them because I read a lot about the virus, but all of them got it and there was no other way than the mother through milk or while giving birth.

    1. How old are your kittens? I’ve read that the FIV+ kittens from mother cat shows positive for 6mo in kittens’ system, but will go away after that. I wonder if it’s true.

      1. I agree! Kittens can seroconvert from fiv +. to Fiv negative 4-6 months after being weaned from their mothers and no longer nursing. I have seen this many times with my patients over the years in my veterinary practice. They may be born with FIV positive status and several months later seroconvert to negative.

    2. Please do another test when they are 8 mos. There is false negatives and false positives with certain tests, so is a good idea to try this again.

    3. The FIV test is testing for the presence of antibodies not for the presence of the virus itself. Obviously the Mom cat has been exposed to the FIV virus and she will have antibodies to it. The antibodies will be transmitted to the kittens along with the rest of the immunities they get from Mom in the mothers milk. If the kittens are re-tested 3 months later they will in most cases test negative because they weren’t exposed to the virus just the antibodies to the virus .

    4. IT depends on what stage she is in her birthing cycle, when she is bitten to transmit to the kittens. I have not read anything from Cornell University or Florida University where it was transmitted through the mother’s milk

    5. I have heard that kittens might test positive after they are first born but when tested again in six months would test negative. After their own immune system has taken over.

    6. I know this is an old post, but thought I would reply. I had the same situation with kittens and an FIV + mother. The kittens falsely tested positive because they were nursing. They all eventually were cleared and I was able to adopt them all out. It takes time for it to clear from their systems, and expensive to keep having them tested, but worth it in the end.

  3. 12 of my cats teeth was extracted. He got 4 X antibiotics but as soon ss its finished his mouth is terribly sore. He also had kortisone but thw vet said he might have FIV. He is constsntly ill and only drinks milk with egg white. We spent R6000 on him and loves him a lot BUT We are pensioners and cant keep this up. Will it be better to put him out of his missery? What do you suggest? Please and thank you.

    1. Hi there Ivy,

      Thanks for reaching out! we suggest contacting your vet with this question. We hope your cat feels better!

    2. Well if your child had a disease and it cost you money would you put it out of it’s misery. People like you shouldn’t have a pet to make such a comment.

      1. I think your comment is a bit too harsh for people in their position. Just because we’re animal lovers with different circumstances than them doesn’t mean they don’t love their cat.

    3. Contact a vet that is trained in homopathy. When conventional medicine does not work homopathy may. It has saved two of our cats with this condition when conventional med hasn’t. After the initial consult the remedies are quite cheap.

    4. I’m sorry to hear about your situation with your cat. Please ignore the negative comments, which are not in any way helpful. I agree with Barb Kasperski that homeothapy may be the way to go. But barring that – I think the best thing to do is figure whether you’re keeping him alive because you feel he’s happy with his life as it is, or whether you’re doing so because you can’t bear the ugly act (completely understandable). Then, is there anything you can do (within reason) to improve his life, or is the end inevitable and imminent anyway? Again, my sympathy for your situation.

    5. Ivy, it sounds like your cat has stomatitis. Many times the most effective way to deal with this is to extract ALL the teeth. If some are left, then the problem almost always comes back — it is only a matter of time. They can live and eat without the teeth if indoor only cats with you providing their food. Milk with egg whites is definitely NOT a sufficient long term diet for cats and will only make other health problems in the long run. Cats are obligate carnivores; they must consume meat for optimal health and longevity. Feeding human baby food meats would be a much better alternative. Although pate cat food with extra water in a blender to make it even smoother like puree, thus easier to eat & swallow should be fine. And the antibiotics of choice for mouth/dental issues is clindamycin which comes in liquid (tastes horrible to cats), pills, and tiny capsules. (I have worked at vet clinics since 1988, have always had personal pets, and am also involved in TNR & cat rescue & adoptions.

      1. Donna DelCheccolo

        I had a cat with stomatitis. He had all his teeth extracted and did fine. I read that feeding cats on plastic plates causes this in some cats. His food and water bowl was plastic.

        1. Sinceramente? Não creio que seja a vasilha a vilã, mas a falta de higiene para com ela. Já vi mtas pessoas dizerem que lavam a tigela dos gatinhos apenas uma vez na semana – eu lavo TODOS OS DIAS 3 VEZES AO DIA OU MAIS. Comida azeda na vasilha suja seja plástica ou não e isso CAUSA ESTOMATITE a médio ou longo prazo até em humanos, quiça gatinhos.

    6. Your cat might have something called stomatitis. I have one cat that had to have all her teeth pulled because of it. And her mouth is still sore. Ask your vet about it.

    7. Purchase 4Life transfer factor plus. Read the reviews, it will help. Two capsules a day, you open up the capsule and put it in his food. I have plenty of results with this with all types of ailments and FIV of course

    1. Can anyone tell me how to introduce a fiv cat to my other cats. We just took him in and have him isolated in an separate room. At first Jesse seemed afraid of my other cats when he would see or hear them. Now I have had a screen door with pet guards put on his room so he can easily seem them. They play footsies under the door.
      Jesse plays rough with me and easily bites so I am afraid he will bite one of my healthy cats. He has been neutered.
      I would love for him to have the freedom of the house and not be confined to one room. Any help will be appreciated.

      1. I am told by my vet that there must be some real blood exchanged for the disease to be transmitted. I have two FIV cats, both previously feral boys. The five cats I have pop each other all the time, and my other cats tested negative. They can live very well with other cats and the other cats are bound to teach the little fighter that crime doesn’t pay. He wants and needs friends and will start to get it when no one wants to befriend him. I’m no vet, but I’m a veteran mom of FIVers.

      2. For years I’ve successfully introduced new arrivals by confinement in a cage I constructed with 2×2 at every corner, top & bottom with plywood base stapled fencing with openings 2″x4″ allowing protection but ability to explore/visit acclimate to the major population/has NEVER failed……previously 60 cats inside my house all compatible!

  4. We just took in a male stray and our vet is recommending we get him to a single cat household. We have been torn at what to do because we do not want to risk injuring our other two kitties, but we find your article/information very uplifting and helpful in our decision making. We were both looking for a family to adopt ‘Theo’, but I think Theo has chosen his family. Many thanks to you and Dr. Litster, we’ll keep you updated on Theo and his sisters, Mia and Isabella.

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