What is Feline AIDS?

Orange and white cat examined by veterinarian

Feline immunodeficiency virus or cat FIV, more commonly known as “feline AIDS,” is a retrovirus infection among cats. It is called cat FIV or AIDS because its effects are similar to that of human HIV, except it specifically affects felines.


Understanding Feline AIDS

This viral infection, first detected in the US in 1986, works by targeting a cat’s white blood cells, damaging its immune system. This three-stage illness progressively weakens the immune system of felines, making them vulnerable to secondary infections.

Feline AIDS, like HIV in humans, is contagious. The virus can be passed on from one cat to another when:

  • An infected cat bites a virus-free cat. Outdoor cats are more vulnerable to FIV as they may be involved in territorial disputes with infected cats.
  • An FIV-positive mother cat passes it on to her kittens. Neutered or spayed cats have a lower chance of contracting the infection.
  • The blood of an infected cat is transfused to an uninfected feline. The virus can invade the body easily through blood cells transferred during a blood transfusion.

Unfortunately, FIV-positive cats may have the virus inside their bodies and are already damaging their immune system for years before it can be detected. The first stage of FIV is usually characterized by a lack of symptoms making it hard to diagnose pets with the virus.


Common Symptoms of Cats with AIDS

Once the infection progresses into the 2nd stage, infected cats will start manifesting these symptoms:

  • Respiratory problems
  • Poor skin and coat condition
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Recurrent fever
  • Appetite loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Mouth and gum inflammation
  • Constant diarrhea
  • Persistent eye problems
  • Seizures
  • Behavioral and neurological changes

FIV-positive cats in the active or second stage may still recover completely with proper veterinary care. Once the infection reaches the third stage, however, there won’t be a cure. This third stage is known as the “AIDS stage,” where felines typically develop chronic illnesses or cancers. Cats with feline AIDS can still live a good quality of life for years as long as they receive constant veterinary care and live indoors.

Orange and white cat examined by veterinarian