FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus)

What is feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)?

  • It is a retrovirus of the genus Lentivirus.
  • It is closely related to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Note: Humans are not susceptible to FIV.
  • FIV is present worldwide in domestic cat populations.
  • The most likely populations to be infected are sick adult cats, free-roaming cats and male cats
  • The mode of viral transmission is via biting. Infected queens can also transmit the virus to her kittens. Viral transmission is relatively low within stable household populations.
  • Even though the body can mount an immune response, infected cats remain persistently infected. Infected cats generally remain healthy until immunodeficiency problems arise.

Clinical signs

  • The virus mainly causes immunodeficiency and, as a result, predisposes the infected cat to secondary infection - viral, fungal, bacterial and parasitic.
  • The disease is generally seen at 4 years.
  • The clinical manifestations that most frequently appear include stuffy noise (rhinitis), enlarged lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy), chronic inflammation of the mouth (gingivostomatitis) and weight loss.


  • The two most common tests that are available are in-house based ELISA and the Western blot analysis.

Management of infected cats

  • Never euthanase infected cats. With management infected cats can live just as long as uninfected cats.
  • Management includes:
    1. Isolation can protect from other infections.
    2. Neutering may reduce aggression and transmission.
    3. Health checks – recommended to have a clinical and weight monitoring every 6 months.
    4. Routine vaccinations – the vaccination of FIV sero-positive cats is controversial and must be discussed with your local veterinary surgeon.
  • Supportive therapy: antiviral therapy – feline interferon-omega.


  • The vaccination is commercially available in South Africa.
  • Vaccination can invalidate the serological diagnosis of FIV
  • Please discussion FIV vaccination with your local vet prior to vaccination.

More info:

Shield your cat from this killer

Source: Feline Immunodeficiency - ABCD guidelines on prevention and management. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2009) 11, 575-584.

(Dr Angus Campbell, September 2011) 

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