New FIV study good news for infected felines

  • Chance

    Chance Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

  • Bunky and Spunky

    Bunky and Spunky Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

By Mary Hayashi
Posted1/19/2017 8:46 AM

Today, I would like to discuss FIV, also known as feline immunodeficiency virus. I will address what it is, its symptoms, the diagnosis and how to live with it in a segregated feline household (separate rooms) vs. happily ever after with your non-positive felines.

FIV is a compromise of the feline immune system. It should not be confused with feline leukemia, which is transmitted differently and has different consequences. In the past, these diseases have been treated as the same death sentence because they both affect the feline immune system.


The difference in transmission is the reason not to treat them the same way. FIV is not a casual contact illness. What does that mean? That means it is not caught through eye-tearing, nose-to-nose contact, salvia or through intestines.

FIV is contracted by a hard, blood-drawing bite or injury from an infected feline. That means hard fighting, not play fighting over a toy.

This means these felines can share bedding, grooming, food, water and, above all, a common habitat.

Now, veterinarians are taking a different approach to FIV in multiple-feline households and animal shelters. This change is in part due to findings of Annette Litster of Purdue University's College of Veterinary Medicine, who studied various rescue settings, some making the choice to house FIV felines with nonpositive cats.

Just so you know, Buddy has never listened to the voices that recommended euthanizing. Buddy has always housed positive FIV felines in separate rooms, that is until we made one exception recently (more about that later in Featured Felines).

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We have only had a handful of positive felines, so keeping them separate has never posed a problem. It does, however, create a problem for the positive felines. With the different treatment, they fell behind all of our black felines to gain a forever home, which is always Buddy's goal.

Litster's findings are twofold. FIV positive felines and noninfected cats can live together with one caveat: The positive feline must not be aggressive. It must not be prone to picking fights that may draw blood.

In my mind, this is no different from any new feline introduction. Each introduction takes time and patience. New felines will not be best buds over night. Mixed households find solutions until they know all is peaceful among all feline family members. So adding a FIV would not be harder than normal protocol if you are doing it correctly.

Also in the good news department, FIV felines may be carriers without symptoms. In addition, since the immune problem is slow, symptoms may be as minor as an upper respiratory infection, bad teeth and bad gums, resulting in tooth loss.


What does that mean? The feline will perhaps by toothless at 9 or 10 years of age. Is that any reason to deny a great feline a forever home?

The last question on the topic: Is there a vaccine or a cure? There is no current cure, but there is a vaccine. This needs to be discussed with your veterinarian. If your feline ever gets out, not all shelters may be as tolerant of the illness as The Buddy Foundation and your feline might end up on a list with his time numbered.

Please meet Buddy's FIV positive Featured Felines:

Chance: Chance is a white and dark gray male. He was apparently dumped behind the shelter by his previous owner. We spent over a year trying to catch him, but he kept evading the traps, until recently.

When we finally did catch him he appeared to be almost feral and wouldn't have anything to do with people. When he was taken to the vet to be neutered we found he had some very bad teeth. Once they were removed, Chance became a completely different cat.

He is now very laid back and has no problem with anyone visiting him in his condos. He likes to be petted, and after a couple of ear scratches will start to purr and rub back. This boy is sweeter than pie. Perhaps he will get a second chance at a forever home.

Bunky and Spunky: Bunky and Spunky, both white and black males, and are brothers. They came to Buddy as somewhat older kittens that had been caught together outside.

Unfortunately, Bunky had received a severe bite on his tail before being caught. When he arrived the bite was badly infected. As a result, he lost most of his tail. He also apparently caught FIV when he was bitten. So Bunky is a special needs kitten; Spunky is not.

These two support the new FIV research. Though they have lived together for almost one year, Spunky has never tested positive for FIV. They play and wrestle together, groom each other and are all around best friends. They need to be adopted together.

Finding a home that wants to adopt two kittens is difficult. It will take a very special person to adopt them both, especially since Bunky is a special kitten. Are you that person?

• The Buddy Foundation, 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights, is a nonprofit 501(c) 3, all volunteer, no-kill animal shelter. For information, call (847) 290-5806 or visit