Lepers. Outcasts. No one wants them. Most avoid them. Some are afraid of them. They have nowhere to go. They have done nothing wrong.
Cats who have been diagnosed with FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) face multiple battles. First, they are segregated from other cats, for fear of possibly transmitting the disease. Second, they are in the shelters’ “most-likely” group of those who are to be chosen for euthanasia, because… third, it is difficult to find homes for them.
The lucky ones are at least in foster homes, where they can live normal lives. Foster homes for FIV positive are few and far between. With the concern of possible transmission, most foster homes for these cats only house of like kind. And there are many who need a home – foster or forever – because they aren’t adopted readily and often.
FIV is similar to HIV in humans – except it’s the feline form, and if transmitted at all, only to other cats. It is not spread easily, it takes a transfer of substantial saliva, like from a bite wound; or it is passed in utero to the growing fetus. There is a possibility of sexual transmission, but with spay/neuter this is not an issue. Cats who have been feral or stray may have been in a fight with another cat, or born to infected mothers, and received the virus. It is a lifelong disease, there is currently no cure.
It is not a death sentence, though. Cats with FIV can lead completely normal lives, and with high quality food and good vet care – long and happy ones, too. As long as they are kept free from, or promptly treated for, secondary infections, the virus does no harm. Eventually, it will probably lead to a breakdown in their immune system, where they will be unable to fend off what an average cat can recover from. Unless they reach this stage, a FIV-positive cat will enjoy a good life.
There is a vaccine which can be very effective; the existence of this vaccine has, however, complicates matters for diagnosing FIV. A cat who has had the vaccination will test positive, even though they do not actually have the disease. It can be very confusing for those who rescue strays and ferals – testing positive may not mean the feline actually has it! Also, kittens may receive the antibodies from their mother’s milk. This requires delaying testing of kittens until they are at least 8 weeks old, and retesting after a given time for others to determine if they do or do not actually have FIV. Some actually rid themselves of the virus over time.
The result is that there are cats who have been “diagnosed” with FIV, but unbeknown to rescuers may have had the vaccine. The vaccination is effective for life. Those who are indeed infected are able to pass on the virus to other cats if they bite them and pass saliva into the bloodstream of the recipient, which usually occurs only in true fighting cases and not horseplay. But, out of concern and protection for those who are known to be free of the virus, cats with FIV are not kept together with them.
If someone is looking to adopt an only pet, or already has a FIV-positive cat at home and wishes to adopt another, a cat who is in this category might be a good choice to consider. If they are healthy, they are really no different than any other. And yet, they so desperately need homes! While we work at spay/neuter programs like TNR and low-cost clinics, we still have this virus to contend with. The cats who have the misfortune of carrying the label – they will suffer in shelter cages, or be needlessly euthanized, until FIV is eradicated or a cure is developed.
Consider adopting or sponsoring a FIV-positive cat, they are so deserving and worthwhile! For more information about FIV and Feline Leukemia, please visit The Winn Feline Foundation.
It’s the last day of Adopt A Less-Adoptable Pet Week, Be the Change for Pets!