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FIV Cats Need Homes, Too!

By Lisa Chassy, DVM

FIV, or feline immunodeficiency virus, is a commonly misunderstood disease of cats. It is in the same family of viruses that cause Feline Leukemia, and HIV, but for the most part, they do not have many similarities. FIV is most often detected when a cat is first brought to a veterinarian after being added to a household, or by a shelter or rescue group prior to placement in a home. When this disease was first discovered, it was thought to be so similar to feline leukemia, that it would cause cats to become sick and die within a few years of diagnosis. In fact, with FeLV, the average lifespan after diagnosis is 4 years, but that ranges from a few days (if the cat is already very ill when diagnosed) to several years, if the cat is unaffected when diagnosed.

FIV, on the other hand, may cause a cat very little difficulty and cats often live 10 to 15 years after diagnosis. Many have no higher level of disease or illness than cats without FIV. Others will develop oral infections (stomatitis), certain types of cancer (lymphoma and squamous cell carcinoma), bone marrow suppression, and certain infections. It is important to know if a cat has FIV, because it has bearing on how you manage the catís health. They need annual or twice a year check-ups by a veterinarian, and if they do become ill, addressing the problems quickly will help these cats live long lives. Many times, if these cats become sick, they will respond just as well as a cat that does not have FIV. In addition, FIV positive cats must be kept indoors so that they will not spread the virus to other cats.

It is common for families who have a cat that has tested positive for FIV to want to find this cat a new home. Sometimes they fear it will live a shorter lifeóbut in fact, it may live a totally normal life. Sometimes they fear it will spread this disease within the household cats. Interestingly enough, if cats do not fight, the disease is not transmitted within the household very often at all. Cat rescue groups are often faced with a dilemma as to what to do with cats that test positive. Since the cats stand a reasonable chance of being healthy for many years, it is difficult to decide to put these cats to sleep. But because the disease is not well understood, it is difficult to find homes willing to take these kitties in.

If you have a cat with FIV, consider adding a cat that also has this infection. Or if you do not have a cat yet, but want to adopt one, consider adding an FIV positive cat to your life. Saving a life by adopting a cat is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Adopting an FIV positive kitty helps not only you but also the caretaking organization involved because it is so difficult for these kitties to find homes. Adding a cat with FIV to your home if you already have cats that do not have FIV may pose some risks. On the other hand, if a cat in your home tests positive but does not fight with other the other cats, it may be possible to keep this cat for years. These cats deserve a chance at a normal life, with a family that loves them.

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