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When I adopted my current cats last year, the folks at the shelter asked me if I would consider adopting some of their Feline Immunodeficieny Virus (FIV)-positive cats since I did not have any other cats at the time. The adoption counselor and I briefly discussed what this would entail, but since I had just come off of 6+ years of treating complicated diseases of elder cats, I wasn't ready for that challenge at that time.

But the counselor, the brochure she gave me, and the time I spent with Google didn't give me a very thorough understanding of the issues. So, because this question could come up again in the future, I'd like to know what the practical issues are in caring for an FIV-positive cat. Is day-to-day life pretty much the same as for other cats until the cat gets older? If not, what's different? (Diet, medicines, more-frequent vet visits?) Once the disease starts producing effects on the cat's health, what does an owner need to do to keep the cat comfortable and as healthy as possible?

I realize that every cat is different; as much as possible I'm looking for what is typical and how much variation there is.

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With the caveat that I don't have a huge amount of experience in this area:

  • you can lose them very quickly: it seems to be almost random when they enter the end-stage of the disease. I've seen FIV-positive cats go from apparently healthy to dying within a week or two.
  • they're much more susceptible to any other infections that might be around (obviously!), so you'd want to be more vigilant about keeping them inside, making sure their food and water is fresh, keeping the litter box clean, and keeping your home clean.
  • You'll also want to take more care about keeping them away from non-FIV-positive cats: while it's possible for fixed FIV-positive cats to live in the same household as fixed non-FIV-positive cats, the risk of the disease getting passed on isn't negligible.
  • One that I've heard about but never experienced - if the FIV-positive cat is female, do not allow her to foster kittens. Females (I've heard that this is true of spayed females, although I don't recall the reference offhand) can actually produce milk for foster kittens and pass on the disease this way.
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  • I have read that FIV isn't transmitted sexually, but via saliva, and typically through bites between males in fights. I'm not sure whether they're fixed or not is relevant (if it is, I'd be interested to know). – Ben Collins Dec 10 '15 at 19:18
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    @BenCollins Fixed cats also tend to fight less - a lot less. – Kate Paulk Dec 10 '15 at 19:44
  • I'd add that my experience is similar to Kate's; for the most part, FIV+ cats are just cats. It's just that there's a very good chance that at some point, the FIV symptoms will start, and at that point, they will probably go downhill very quickly (but they may not). We had FIV+ cats who lived long lives and died of something else; we had a FIV+ cat that lived for about 10 years symptom free, and then another few years slowly getting worse, and then we had FIV+ cats who lived only a few years before quickly passing away. – Kevin McKenzie Jun 22 '17 at 2:37
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At least with my cat, the cat also had some behavioural issues straight after the adoption and turned out FIV was reason after we got the diagnosis. So it requires lots of patience to overcome those, so FIV cat might not be for the first-time cat owners (what the vet commented to me when we considered the initial quirks).

One more addition to the above list is that FIV cat can have issues with their teeth, so it could be good to put aside bit of money for that, but that can vary depending on cat. Anyhow as they might get infections more easily, good teeth help in preventing issues.

I also try to feed my cat with high-quality and occasionally even grain-free food - not yet sure if it will have any long-term benefits, but we shall see.

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