Caring for your FIV positive cat

For the most up to date information on FIV please click on this Maddie's Institue link and view the webcast. The information in this webcast includes:
Latest evidence-based information from recently published studies.
Likelihood of FIV transmission in mixed-cat households.
Signs of FIV.
Overview of available diagnostic methods.
Antiviral treatments, management and prognosis.
The first thing to remember if your cat has tested positive for the FIV virus is that it's not the end of the world. He may not ever become symptomatic. If the cat is otherwise healthy and your vet has recommended euthansia, please seek out a vet that has experience with living FIV cats. Death should NEVER be the first choice in treating an FIV+ cat regardless of  any other issues.  FIV+ cats CAN and DO live long and healthy lives. With a quality diet and proper, common sense pet care many FIV related issues can be handled with relative ease. For more information on FIV testing, please see the link at the bottom of this page.

Your FIV cat doesn't need to be an "only" cat or have to be kept separated from negative cats.The virus is not  airborne nor is it spread by sharing food and water, sharing a litter box or mutual grooming. By using proper introduction techniques and giving the cats an opportunity to become accustomed to one another gradually the risk of transmitting the virus can be all but eliminated.  

Living with an FIV positive cat is not as difficult or expensive as you might think! While most pets visit the vet once a year for annual vaccinations, it is a good idea to schedule just one extra wellness check. Taking a more pro-active approach to your FIV cat's health will allow you to head off any issues that might arise before they are allowed to progress and become critical. 

Dr Jamieson Nichols and Jessica give Tank a complete physical. All of the FIV+ cats at the sanctuary get an in-depth physical twice a year.
Most cats are diagnosed as FIV+ based on a SNAP test. The SNAP test, used routinely by most veterinarians, is designed to detect antibodies in the blood that indicate possible FIV infection. Some people have doubts about the SNAP test saying that it has a high percentage of false results but before condemning this valuable diagnostic tool we should consider the variables that have an effect on the accuracy of the test.

(1) Cats that have been vaccinated against FIV will test positive for as long as 9 years after being vaccinated. The SNAP test is not able to differentiate between a true virus positive and a "vaccine positive".
(2) Human error should always be considered. Test kits must be kept cool and sealed in their protective foil pack and used within 2 hours of opening. The test must be prepared properly and read ON TIME per the instructions.
(3) When was the cat exposed to the virus? For kittens under 6 months old a positive SNAP test can be the result of maternal antibodies the kitten receives naturally from nursing. Most kittens will re-test negative after 6 months old. For an adult cat it can take up to 2 weeks or longer from the initial exposure for the antibodies to reach a detectable level in the cat's blood. 

But what are antibodies?

Antibodies are specialized cells of the immune system which can recognize harmful organisms (such as bacteria, viruses and fungi) that invade the body. When a cat is exposed to disease, (FIV, for example) antibodies are released into the bloodstream by the immune system that react to these foreign organisms by killing them before they have time to cause an actual infection. They are a normal part of a healthy and functioning immune system. 
If your cat tests "positive" via SNAP test remember this-- it is an antibody test and does not necessarily indicate that the cat is actually infected only that the cat has been exposed and is actively producing antibodies as a result. Re-testing a "positive" 60 days after initial testing is recommended. If the re-test is negative it doesn't mean that the first test was inaccurate or "false positive" rather it indicates that the cat was indeed exposed but it's healthy and functional immune system has successfully eliminated the virus. 
A second SNAP test, given at least 60 days after the initial test, is also positive what is the next step?
The Western Blot, also an antibody test, identifies more specific antibodies to FIV. It is also a blood test but the blood sample must be sent to a diagnostic lab. Like the SNAP test, the Western Blot does NOT differentiate a "vaccine positive" from a virus positive.

The next step is a PCR test. This specialized and expensive test is designed to detect the RNA of the virus itself. Once again, a blood sample is sent to a veterinary diagnostic lab for this extensive process. 

If the cat shows no signs of illness beyond a positive test result, you may chose to accept the SNAP positives and forgo further testing. FIV+ cats can be safely integrated into homes with FIV- cats and will, with proper care, enjoy a healthy, "normal" life span.
For a more detailed explanation of testing protocols, please click on the following link:
We are looking for "FIV Friendly" veterinarians all over the country!! If your vet is FIV savvy, please let us know so that we might add them to our list .