How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat


Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infects a cat when infected body fluids (most commonly saliva, but potentially via semen or blood) come into contact with the blood of an uninfected cat. FIV weakens a cat’s immune system, making it harder for them to fight infections and will most likely be fatal unless the FIV+ cat is properly cared for. An FIV-positive cat can lead a normal, happy life for many years if you care for them properly. The key to keeping an infected cat healthy includes providing a healthy diet and environment, giving your cat regular preventative health care, and taking it to the vet at the first sign of ill health.

Part 1
Feeding a FIV-Positive Cat

Feeding a FIV-Positive Cat on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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It is important to give your cat a good diet in order to keep him or her as healthy as possible despite the FIV. Ask your veterinarian about good, quality brands of cat food.

Feeding a FIV-Positive Cat on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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Dry kibble is the best food you can feed your cat, as wet food has a tendency to build up on teeth, causing tartar buildup that can lead to infections. Your primary goal should be to do everything you can to keep your cat infection-free because FIV causes it to be very susceptible to infections.[1]

Feeding a FIV-Positive Cat on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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Vets often recommend life-stage diets from Hills, Purina, and Royal Canin. These diets provide for the specific nutritional needs of young animals (under 12 months of age), adults (classed as 1 – 7 years), and senior animals (over the age of 7 years). Matching the life-stage diet to the age of your cat can promote longevity.

Part 2
Getting Preventative Healthcare

Getting Preventative Healthcare on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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FIV causes your cat’s immune system to become weak, which means that it is very susceptible to other illnesses, like cat flu. Because of this, it's important that you get your cat vaccinated against illnesses every year. Talk to your vet about which vaccines to give your cat, as some diseases are more common in certain areas than others.[2] Your vet will most likely suggest that you get your cat vaccinated against feline distemper and other cat viruses.

Getting Preventative Healthcare on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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A FIV-infected cat’s body is less likely to handle infections well. FIV-infected cats also need all the nutrients that they can get and many parasites will rob your cat’s body of those nutrients. You need to treat your cat for both internal and external parasites.[3] Control worms (internal parasites) with milbemax (containing milbemycin.) This wormer is effective against all classes of worms. Indoor cats should be dosed once every three to four months. Cats allowed outdoor access, especially those that hunt rodents, should be wormed monthly. External parasites such as fleas and ticks can also compromise your cat’s health. Vets often recommend Stronghold (UK)/ Revolution (US). This external parasite medication combats all external parasites in the same way that milbemax fights internal parasites.

Getting Preventative Healthcare on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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It is a good idea to boost its immune system with vitamins. You can give your cat vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin C, selenium, and zinc.[4] Talk to your vet about the proper dose for your specific cat. Your vet will most likely recommend something along the lines of 3 to 5 ml of LC-vit daily or 5 ml of Nutri-Plus Gel daily.

Getting Preventative Healthcare on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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If your cat is very weak and has a hard time eating, you should consider giving him or her injectable vitamins to boost its health. Again, it is always important to talk to your vet before giving your cat any supplements or medication. An injectable supplement that is often recommended by vets is Coforta, which is injected at 0.5ml to 2.5 ml per cat once a day for 5 days during a single treatment period.[5]

Getting Preventative Healthcare on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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L-lysine is a supplement that can help prevent flare-ups of infections that are common in FIV-positive cats. L-lysine aids in protein synthesis and is involved in tissue repair and maintenance. The recommended dose is generally 500 mg daily mixed with food. Talk to your vet before giving your cat supplements.

Getting Preventative Healthcare on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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In interferon therapy, your cat is injected intravenously with interferons, substances that are part of the immune system and help to fight viral and bacterial infections. By increasing the number of interferons in your cat’s body, your cat becomes more resistant to infections, which means that it has a better chance of living a long, happy life.[6] Interferons are speciality medications that are veterinarian administered. They can be costly, but studies have shown they have minimal side effects in cats.[7][8]

Getting Preventative Healthcare on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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FIV-positive cats have a much harder time fighting off infections and other illnesses. Because of this, it is best to take your cat into the vet as soon as you notice that it is sick, rather than waiting to see if the situation will resolve itself. Generally, your cat will simply need to be put on antibiotics to help his or her body fight the infections. You should always be on the look out for signs that your cat is feeling unwell, including: Coughing. Sneezing. Runny eyes or nose. Decreased appetite. Increased thirst. Vomiting or diarrhea. EXPERT ADVICEPippa Elliott, a licensedveterinarian, explains: "Catswith FIV have weak immune systemsand can't fight infection. Thismakes it especially important toget the cat checked by a vet atthe first sign of illness. Atimely course of antibiotics canmake all the difference to theoutcome."EXPERT ADVICEPippa Elliott, a licensedveterinarian, explains: "Cats with FIVhave weak immune systems and can'tfight infection. This makes itespecially important to get the catchecked by a vet at the first sign ofillness. A timely course ofantibiotics can make all thedifference to the outcome."EXPERT ADVICEPippa Elliott, a licensed veterinarian,explains: "Cats with FIV have weak immunesystems and can't fight infection. Thismakes it especially important to get the catchecked by a vet at the first sign ofillness. A timely course of antibiotics canmake all the difference to the outcome."EXPERT ADVICEPippa Elliott, a licensed veterinarian, explains: "Cats with FIV haveweak immune systems and can't fight infection. This makes it especiallyimportant to get the cat checked by a vet at the first sign of illness.A timely course of antibiotics can make all the difference to theoutcome."EXPERT ADVICEPippa Elliott, a licensed veterinarian, explains: "Cats with FIV have weakimmune systems and can't fight infection. This makes it especially importantto get the cat checked by a vet at the first sign of illness. A timely courseof antibiotics can make all the difference to the outcome."

Part 3
Controlling a FIV-Positive Cat's Stress

Controlling a FIV-Positive Cat's Stress on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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Stress can have physical effects on your cat because his or her immune system is already weak. When an animal is stressed, its body releases a natural steroid—cortisol—in order to help the body cope with the stress. Long term exposure to cortisol suppresses the immune system and, in a cat that already has a weakened immune system, this will decrease his or her limited ability to fight infection.[9]:

Controlling a FIV-Positive Cat's Stress on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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Change can really stress a cat out, from having a new pet around to moving to a new house. Try to keep your cat’s environment as normal as possible. Don't forget to continue to play with your cat. Give it toys and spend quality time with it as usual. You don't want to exhaust a cat with FIV but you do want to continue to enjoy the company of your pet.

Controlling a FIV-Positive Cat's Stress on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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You can purchase diffusers that emit feline pheromones that will keep your cat calm. Vets recommend Feliway, which contains a synthetic version of the pheromone (a hormone messenger) that a contented cat gives off. Feliway is odorless to people, but to cats it sends of a reassuring message that all is well with the world.

Part 4
Controlling Interaction with Other Cats

Controlling Interaction with Other Cats on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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It is important to know how FIV is spread so that you can keep your FIV-free cats healthy and make sure that your FIV-positive cat still has a happy life. FIV is most commonly spread through a cat’s saliva, though it can also be spread through blood and semen. The most common way for a cat to contract FIV is through getting bit by an FIV-positive cat. [10] Keep in mind that FIV is a relatively fragile virus that cannot survive in the environment beyond a few seconds. Outside the body, FIV is rapidly damaged by drying, UV, heat, light and basic disinfectants, and poses no risk to other cats. The virus requires direct transmission from infected saliva of one cat, into the bloodstream of a healthy cat.

Controlling Interaction with Other Cats on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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Studies have shown that it is not absolutely necessary to keep your healthy cats separate from your FIV-positive cats if they get along well. If your cats have a tendency to fight, however, it is a good idea to keep them separate. In studies done by the University of Glasgow, it was found that when FIV-free and FIV-positive cats were around each other, there was a 1-2% transmission rate.[11] You will have to decide whether that 1 to 2% is too much of a risk to take.

Controlling Interaction with Other Cats on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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When cats get spayed (females) or neutered (males), they become less aggressive, which means that the chances that they will get into fights is greatly reduced. If you have an FIV-positive cat that you want to remain an outdoor cat, it is a good idea to get it fixed so that it is less likely to bite another cat in a fight.[12]

Controlling Interaction with Other Cats on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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As a responsible cat owner, your priorities should be to keep your FIV-positive cat healthy, and to make sure that it does not infect any other cats. Male cats tend to roam over large distances, sometimes across several acres and are likely to encounter other cats on their travels. If he is likely to scrap with these cats, then it is essential to keep him indoors.[13] Keeping a territorial cat indoors might not be the most ideal situation, particularly if he is used to roaming around outside, but it might be the only way to keep him from spreading FIV to other cats in your neighborhood.

Controlling Interaction with Other Cats on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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If you live in a city, it is a good idea to talk to a local veterinarian about the incidence of FIV in the area. If there is a large population of feral cats who are FIV-positive, you may want to keep FIV-free cats indoors but may feel alright about letting your FIV-positive cat stay an outdoor cat. If FIV is rare in a high cat density neighborhood, then, as a responsible owner, you should keep your FIV-positive pet indoors. If you live in an area with a low population of cats, such as remote countryside, then the risk of cats meeting and fighting is low, and it is acceptable to let your FIV-positive cat out.

Part 5
Understanding the Progression of FIV

Understanding the Progression of FIV on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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Check your cat for bite marks regularly. You should take your cat to the vet if you notice a bite mark and at the same time that it develops a fever. FIV causes a severe fever that will last for 3 to 7 days. When you take your cat to the vet he or she will check for: Swollen lymph nodes. When cats become ill, their lymph nodes swell up. Your vet will check to see if this is occurring in your cat.[14] White blood cell levels. FIV causes decreases in white blood cell counts. Your vet will take a blood sample to see if your cat has low white blood cell counts.

Understanding the Progression of FIV on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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Most cats recover from the first stage of the disease (the fever and low white blood cell counts). When they recover, they will stop exhibiting signs of illness but will still carry the disease. This period of ‘health’ can last for several months to several years.[15] Doing all of the things will help lengthen your cat’s life and prolong this stage in which she is just a carrier of the disease.

Understanding the Progression of FIV on How to Care for an FIV Infected Cat

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FIV causes immune deficiency that can lead to your cat developing other illnesses. You should monitor your cat for any signs of illness including[16]: Chronic respiratory infections caused by bacteria and viruses. Gastrointestinal infections and diarrhea (Gastroenteritis). Skin lesions (sores). Mouth lesions (sores). Neurological symptoms like psychomotor problems (like trouble moving around), psychological problems, dementia, and convulsions. Weakness. Emaciation. Dull or poor coat. Chronic urinary tract infections.