Viral diseases

My Cat is FIV Positive - Treatment and Life Expectancy

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. April 25, 2019
My Cat is FIV Positive - Treatment and Life Expectancy

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Keeping our cat safe from certain dangers can be difficult when these dangers are invisible to the human eye. Feline immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as FIV, is one such danger. It is an infectious disease which weakens the cat's immune response system and causes the cat to be susceptible to various other diseases. This means it is not FIV itself which can be fatal to cats, but any secondary diseases or illnesses.

If you find out that your cat is FIV positive, then there are many things you will want to know. The first thing is what treatment is available and how you can implement it. Once your cat has been diagnosed with FIV and a treatment plan has begun, the next question may be what is the life expectancy of a cat with FIV? AnimalWised explains everything you need to know about FIV positive cats and what we can do to help them.

You may also be interested in: Life Expectancy of a Cat with Leukemia


  1. What does FIV positive mean?
  2. How is FIV transmitted?
  3. FIV symptoms in cats
  4. FIV treatment in cats
  5. How long does a cat with FIV live?
  6. How to prevent IVF in cats?

What does FIV positive mean?

An aggressive and potentially life threatening virus, feline immunodeficiency virus is a relatively recent feline discovery. It was first isolated in the mid-1980s in a community of feral cats, but it has since been transferred to domestic cats. It is classified as a "Lentivirus", meaning that it is a type of retrovirus which has long incubation periods.

FIV affects different types of immune cells in the cat's body. It stops them from functioning properly, meaning that the cat's general immunity is worsened. However, as it is a lentivirus, it does not often work very fast. The cat may be completely asymptomatic for a long time (i.e. they don't show any visible symptoms). If this happens, it means they are a carrier and have the potential to pass it on to others.

If your cat is FIV positive, it means they have tested positive for the feline immunodeficiency virus. It is one of the many parallels between FIV and HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). both are retroviruses which suppress the immune system. This as lead to many referring to the condition as feline AIDS.

How is FIV transmitted?

Since the disease affects the central nervous and immune systems, it needs a vector to transfer from on individual to another. This vector is usually saliva. This means it is often passed on through biting. This doesn't mean the kind of biting cats perform when playing. It means a deep bite wound which goes down far into the tissue and meets the blood of the animal.

As the disease is most often passed on through biting, it is much more common in male cats than in females[1]. This is because older male cats are more likely to fight with other cats for territory and mates. Feral cats are also more likely to pass on the disease, but if you have an outdoor cat with feral cats in the area, it increases the risk.

There are other methods of transmission, but they are much less common. These include sexual activity and intrauterine transmission, i.e. when the kittens are in the womb. After they are born, it can be passed on via breastfeeding and even by sharing the same feeding dishes and containers. This last mode of transmission is rare.

My Cat is FIV Positive - Treatment and Life Expectancy - How is FIV transmitted?

FIV symptoms in cats

FIV is manifested in various ways and it will, to a large extent, depend on the individual cat. Some of the common symptoms, however, include:

In more advanced clinical cases, the animal may develop:

Between six and eight weeks after infection occurs, the acute phase of the disease usually occurs. However, symptoms may not appear for several weeks or maybe not even at all (as stated above).

Diagnosing FIV in cats is not always easy. A serological test is usually carried out, meaning the cat's fluids are tested in laboratory conditions. The results need to be properly examined by a specialist, so not all veterinarians will have the right equipment to do so in their clinic. The tests will usually look at the levels of antibodies, but as it can take time for the infection to activate, a cat can initially have a negative result, but become FIV positive later on..

FIV treatment in cats

As FIC is often asymptomatic, your cat may not appear to need any treatment. In humans, HIV/AIDS is treated with antiviral drugs. Similar antiviral drugs such as Ribavirin or Zidovudine may be used. However, not only is the efficacy of the drugs “generally poor”[2], the cost and lack of availability mean they are not usually implemented.

Instead, the symptoms of FIV and any secondary diseases which occur are treated. This may include fluid therapy, blood transfusion or antibiotics. General well-being also needs to be maintained. The cat will likely be placed on a specialized diet and we need to be extra careful in protecting them from secondary diseases.

My Cat is FIV Positive - Treatment and Life Expectancy - FIV treatment in cats

How long does a cat with FIV live?

There is no one life expectancy for a cat with feline immunodeficiency virus. It will wholly depend on the individual. However, as there is no cure for FIV, it will be important to manage the cat's symptoms if you want to extend their life as long as possible. The treatment above will help to fight individual health issues which may shorten their life expectancy, but it will depend how well their immune system can keep up.

Ensuring the cat has everything they need in terms of comfort and well-being is also important. While they may not respond well to being a house cat, cats should be kept indoors, both to protect them against disease and protect other cats from infection. A dietary change may also be required, but this is something you will need to discuss with your veterinarian after diagnosis.

Some have asked the question over when to put a cat down with FIV. However, the veterinary medical community is still debating the question over whether euthanasia is appropriate for the feline community as a whole. In general, if a cat is too weak and has a seriously diminished quality of life, euthanasia may be considered as a possibility. However, as we can still provide a happy life for the cat, it will not usually be recommended. This is unless a secondary disease is threatening them.

How to prevent IVF in cats?

The best way to fight this virus is to prevent it, so some basic steps must be taken. In virus-infected cats, the use of antiviral drugs may be recommended in the initial stages of the infection. The objective is to reduce the chances of the virus replicating and help reduce the severity of the symptoms. It is also designed to reduce the spread of FIV which is very important.

As feline immunodeficiency virus is contagious, limiting the methods of its transmission are imperative. Sterilization is the main method of prevention for two main reasons:

  1. As FIV can be spread in utero, it prevents fertilization and birthing kittens which are FIV positive. Kittens birthed by an FIV positive mother need to be taken away from her in case she spreads the virus, something which can seriously harm their development and needs to be avoided.
  2. Sterilization in male cats will also reduce aggression with other cats and help prevent fighting. In doing so, it can help reduce transmission of FIV.

Additionally, any environmental factors will need to be considered. Ensure their living space is well-ventilated and all of their resources are nearby (especially if they have been weakened for any reason). These include their water, food, bedding and anything else they need.

Vaccination is available for FIV, but its efficacy is still in question and the literature suggests new developments are required to improve said efficacy[3]. Keeping the cat up to date with their other vaccinations and deworming schedule is still very important in reducing secondary disease. It is also important to note that FIV is intraspecies specific, meaning that it will can't be transferred from feline to human.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Cat is FIV Positive - Treatment and Life Expectancy, we recommend you visit our Viral diseases category.

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My Cat is FIV Positive - Treatment and Life Expectancy