Last Updated on: March 20, 2019 by Ingrid King


The Banfield Pet Hospital annual State of Pet Health Report for 2014 revealed a sharp increase in infectious diseases among cats. The reports analyzed data from the nearly 470,000 cats cared for in Banfield’s 850 hospitals across the nation.

The report showed a 48 percent increase in the prevalence of the feline immune deficiency virus (FIV). According to the report,

  • approximately one in every 300 cats seen in Banfield hospitals in 2013 was infected with FIV.
  • The highest prevalence of FIV infection was found in Oklahoma, Iowa and Arkansas.
  • Male cats are three times as likely to be infected with FIV as females.
  • Intact cats older than 1 year were 3.5 times as likely to be infected with FIV as same-aged spayed or neutered cats.

The reports also showed an increase in feline leukemia (FeLV) and upper respiratory infections.

What is FIV?

FIV is is an often misunderstood condition. According to the Feline Health Center at Cornell University, the virus affects approximately 1.5 to 3 percent of healthy cats in the United States, with slightly higher rates in cats that are sick or at high risk for infection. FIV is a lentivirus, which means it moves very slowly, and it gradually affects a cat’s immune system. It is passed from cat to cat through blood transfusions and serious, penetrating bite wounds. FIV cannot be transmitted to humans.

There are a lot of misconceptions about this virus. Contrary to what many people believe, FIV cats can live long, healthy lives if cared for properly. My former office cat, Virginia, lived to be 14, despite her FIV positive status.

FIV is not spread through casual contact.

FIV is transmitted primarily through deep, penetrating bite wounds. Casual, non-aggressive contact of cats living in the same household does not spread the virus. On rare occasions, the virus is transmitted from the mother cat to her kittens, usually during passage of the kittens through the birth canal, or when they ingest infected milk.

Infected cats may never show symptoms.

Infected cats may appear normal for years. The only way to diagnose FIV is through a blood test. A positive test indicates the presence of antibodies. Since there is the possibility of false positives, veterinarians often recommend retesting, using a test with a different format. In kittens born to an FIV positive nursing mother, antibody tests will most likely show positive results for several months, although these kittens are unlikely to be infected. The kittens should be retested every two months until they’re six months old.

What happens if infected cats become symptomatic?

Some cats may show a pattern of non-specific recurring illness. Symptoms typically include poor coat condition, loss of appetite, fever, inflammation of the gums and mouth (gingivitis or stomatitis), chronic and recurring infections of various organ systems, persistent diarrhea, slow weight loss, and various cancers and blood diseases.

FIV positive cats can live well into their teens with proper treatment.

Since all of these symptoms can be indicative of any number of other conditions, it’s important to work closely with your veterinarian if you have an FIV positive cat. A case of “just not doing right” in a healthy cat that may resolve on its own in a day or two could be a precursor to a more serious condition in a cat with a compromised immune system.

Should you vaccinate your cat against FIV?

There is a vaccine available that is supposed to protect cats against contracting FIV, but the effectiveness is poorly supported by current research, and, as with all vaccines, there is also a risk of the cat developing sarcomas at the injection site. Additionally, cats will always test positive for FIV after receiving the vaccine, so if they become ill later in life, there will be no way to eliminate FIV from the diagnosis.

An FIV infection does not have to be a death sentence, and it is not necessary to get rid of a cat who tests positive, nor should it preclude adoption of an FIV positive cat.

19 Comments on FIV Infection on the Rise: Know the Facts

  1. i have a 18 mo old male cat that trsted positave for FIV today the vet gave him some meds He feels good and eats like a horse I will love and care for him to the end

  2. We hope this message gets out far and wide. The previous oversimplification of FIV as “feline AIDS” has unfortunately increased the misunderstood nature of FIV. A lot of people need reeducation to understand that FIV isn’t a death sentence.

  3. I was surprised to hear those are both on the rise. I wonder why that is? Thank you very much for the post. My favorite rescue takes in FIV and FELV cats forever. The kitties are very happy. And they have a good life. I had a FELV kitty many years ago when they did not know too much yet. He was only 6 months when he left us.

    • Sue, I’m not sure why there is such an increase in both diseases. I’m trying to get some information on that.

  4. Thank you for posting about FIV. My beautiful cat, Fred, just passed away 3/20/2014. He would have been 18 in June and was diagnosed with FIV 12 years prior. My vet, at the time, suggested I put him down. UGH! His “sister” will be 18 in May 2014 and had never been separated from him. I’m glad to say she is doing well. (My other cat which lived with all of us, also not separated from Fred, passed away in July of 2011 at the age of 19!). There were two vets who suggested I euthanize Fred because of FIV. I’m glad I chose, instead, to find better vets. As background, Fred was bitten by a cat when he escaped outside. I couldn’t find him for days. He ended up with an infection from a bite wound which was treated, but it was too late to prevent the virus. That barn door had already closed. I miss him dearly, but he had a loving, long life.

      • Oh, thank you Ingrid. I’ve been really fortunate to have shared my home with affectionate, funny, sweet, interesting and cool cats. 🙂
        Yes, it breaks my heart to hear that SOME vets will prescribe a death sentence when it’s so unnecessary. I hope more people will adopt (and/or keep) their FIV positive cats. Thanks, again, for a good article.

      • YES! I agree! Cats can live long and normal lives. (18 years! I wish I’d had Ryker that long and he did *not* have FIV).

        I would love to see veterinarians – and shelters – become more educated on this.

        We also need to have the lone holdout in the USA, the state of Kansas, REPEAL the ban on adopting FIV cats.

        • Wow! That’s horrible. I didn’t know that. How very sad. What can we do to convince/educate them?
          Sorry about Ryker. My cat, Bandit, lived only 8 years. Very sad when they don’t have long lives…who am I kidding – sad when they die after long ones, too! But…I get it. And as we know, although they’ll never take the places of loved ones, there are just so many more who need good, loving homes (as they all should have). Salud!

    • Hello, You are very blessed to have your fur babies with you so long. May I ask what you feed them? I have lost 4 in the past 5 years and my oldest ever was only 12 and she was diagnosed with 75% kidney failure 3 yrs prior but it got better. I did 2 yrs of fluids and then the test said she was fine so we stopped. She made it one more year after that. They are all indoor only and I feed expensive grain free wet food and in morning they get a small about of gran free dry food and I rotate food just in case. I have 5 cats now and my oldest is reaching 11 and I am so afraid of loosing one of them again. My vet tells me I notice it more because I have so many but I wonder. I even had my water tested just to be sure everything was perfect. I hate losing them so young. one had cancer a 6yrs , one tumor at 8, the other reached 10 and had that thrombosis and her legs were getting paralyzed and it just got worse .
      Thanks and I am sorry for your loss of Fred.

      • What an awful lot of loss in such a short time, Charlan. I’m so sorry. It sounds like you’re already feeding a good diet. If you’d like more information on what I recommend, you can find that here: You may also find this article about kidney disease and diet interesting:

      • Hi Charlan. I’m so sorry for the losses of your kitties at such young ages. That is truly a heart breaker. I am sorry to say I have no pearls of wisdom with regard to cat food or environment. Although Tulsi lived to be 19, Fred almost 18 and Monkey is now 18 and doing well with the exception of some teeth issues my vet insists are genetic (yes, and I do feel blessed. Thank you, Universe!), my cat Bandit did pass away at the too young age of 8 from kidney disease. I have to be honest and tell you that all of these cats shared the same diet, and before I could afford more, they were Fancy Feast cats (I’m sure I was heavily influenced by the ads portraying a fluffy white (Persian?) eating all that alleged yummy goodness from a crystal pedestal dish. ha!). As I could, I would try “the latest” in nutrition, but like human diets some ingredients would come and some would go. The changing tides of HOW and WHAT we all eat (for human and non-human animals) can be very frustrating. I currently feed my three cats Stella & Chewys (this is a recent change so I can’t attest to any benefits other than they really like it). I rehydrate the freeze dried packages and give it to them as wet food with a little Weruva mixed in. I free feed them dry food (and always have) which is currently a mixture of a few brands of grain-free brands. I want to be cautious about mentioning a high $ tag associated with allegedly better foods because as we know, throwing money for its own sake at cat health care (including food) does not guarantee a positive outcome. If it did, Fred would not only still be here but would be able to levitate and think his favorite cat toys into existence!) Like choosing a vet, choosing a food should just be to your best ability (and, again, the tides of perception seem to change frequently so we should not be made to feel “less than” if we are already doing the best we can with what we have! Grrrr. “My way is the best and only way” cat care “judges” rub my fur the wrong way!!!). I wish I could help take the pain and fear of loss away from you with regard to your kitties. It sounds like you really care and are doing everything you can to ensure they live long, healthy lives. How about if you try to think of it this way, since you’re already doing everything that you possibly can for them in a physical sense. Please consider quality vs quantity. The beautiful cats that come to you may not live long lives (we really have very little control over this), but they have quality of life in your home which they may not have had in another’s and certainly not on the street. You DO control THAT! Maybe these experiences are gifts, albeit sad and frustrating ones, as reminders of how precious life is and what a short “shelf life” every living creature might have. It’s what we do with the time we DO have that is important (quality). Just please continue to love your cats as you’ve been doing and gently remind yourself that they can’t stay forever. But while they’re here, you can try to be very glad you have furry angels in your home and that you are helping them grow their wings for the next flight. Many hugs and best wishes to you and your cats.

        • Tulsi,
          Your words have truly touched my heart. Thank you so much. I have often thought of the same thing, that although they may not be here long with me , I want everyone of my kitties (my dogs too) to have the best life they can. Although each time one passes the pain is unbelievable and the loss never goes away ( but I know they are still here in spirt with me) and I will always rescue more. I sometime think they are telling me they need to pass on so I can give other kitties a share of the good life. I can never manage a life with out them and they bring me so much happiness.

          I wish you the best also.

  5. We have now taken to having our cats injected in the rear leg. Basically if anything happens you stand a chance of removing a leg but you can’t remove the back of the neck.

    • They’re different viruses, Marie:

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