FIV and FeLV in Cats

About FIV

FIV is an often misunderstood condition. It moves very slowly and gradually affects a cat’s immune system. Basically if a cat gets sick it would take their immune system a little longer than normal to fight it off. Transmission to other cats is difficult- only through very deep bite wounds or sexual activity which is rare in spayed or neutered domesticated cats. FIV cats can live long, healthy lives if cared for properly. Many live their entire lives without any symptoms at all. Owner’s of FIV+ cats should try to keep their immune systems strong by providing a high quality diet, staying up to date on vaccines and routine vet visits, and not delaying when a cat shows symptoms of illness.

FIV and FeLV in Community Cats

FIV and FeLV are incurable viruses that only infect cats. Humans cannot catch or transmit these viruses. And, not all cats that become infected will develop disease.
Many veterinary spay/neuter clinics do not test feral cats for FeLV or FIV, because most cats enjoy excellent health and are no more likely to be infected with these viruses than owned cats. Owned cats and feral cats contract FeLV and FIV at an equally low rate (about 4%).Read more about what  Alley Cat Allies  says about FIV and FeLV in Community Cats.

Testing Protocols for FIV and FeLV

The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends against routine euthanasia of healthy FIV and FelV positive cats.
FIV/FeLV Testing Policy: IndyFeral does not test for FIV/FeLV unless the cat is showing active signs of ill health that may indicate the virus.
Rationale:

  • We don’t euthanize positive asymptomatic cats because we believe they have as much right to live as any being. Euthanasia is defined as the mercy killing of a suffering being, not imposed death for purposes of convenience or concern about possible future consequences.The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends against routine euthanasia of healthy FeLV and FIV positive cats.
  • Testing is a waste of resources. The literature shows the prevalence of FIV and FeLV positive test results in the feral population is low-and the same as in the domestic population (about 4 percent for FeLV and 2 percent for FIV) Money spent on testing can instead, sterilize more cats. At a time when there is a crisis in feral cat overpopulation, the money should go towards neutering and proper colony management.
  • Initial test results are not always reliable, but with ferals, life or death decisions are often made based only on the first test. Reliability issues differ depending on whether FIV or FeLV is in question and what kind of testing is being used.
  • FIV positive cats have been known to often live long lives and may never get sick. The mortality rate is higher for FeLV positive cats, who usually contract the disease as kittens. Still, while they are alive, they can live symptom free if properly fed and sheltered.
  • Euthanizing positive cats is ineffective colony management. Removing a positive cat from a colony does not eliminate the risk of infection to other cats, who have likely already been exposed to the virus anyway.
  • The primary cause of infection relates more to proper colony management then to a particular positive cat or cats. In our experience colonies with lots of sick cats are ones that are poorly managed – poor nutrition, inadequate shelter and/or unsterilized cats. These conditions lead to weakened immune systems and susceptibility to disease. Some veterinarians believe it is rare for a healthy adult cats to ever catch FeLV. The best way to prevent the spread of disease is not by killing individual cats, but by improving the quality of food, making sure the cats have warm, dry shelter in winter and getting them neutered.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends against routine euthanasia of healthy FIV and FelV positive cats.

Release of positive FIV/FeLV cats:

It isn’t true that you are responsible for all the cats that die if you release a positive cat. This  is the primary argument of those who still favor testing and euthanizing if a feral cat tests positive. We have yet to see an entire colony wiped out by the FIV or FeLV virus. As mentioned, a well-fed, well managed colony is going to have a strong immune system and a natural resistance to the viruses.

But even assuming the released cat does transmit the virus and another cat does get sick, this is not your responsibility. TNR does not mean creating a world without risk for feral cats – it’s about improving the situation, not about making it perfect. The disease was present before you came along. By getting the cats neutered and implementing colony management, you have vastly improved the quality of the cat’s lives and no one should criticize your decision to let the animal return to his family and not euthanize him because of a test result.

Additional reading and resources:

The Truth about Cat Viruses

Study Shows That FIV Positive Cats Can Live Harmoniously with FIV Negative Cats