Four years ago I was living in a community with a high rate of unwanted animals. During the summer, the city shelter was forced to euthanize 14 to 17 thousand animals each month. Feral cats and cats that had Feline Aides (FIV) were euthanized immediately. At the time I did not have knowledge or experience with feral cat trap and release programs. I was sharing my house with six healthy cats when I met Scruffy, a sweet, adorable, athletic feral cat, that tested positive for FIV.
I tried to find a home for Scruffy where he would be the only cat in the household, but no one was interested in adopting him. After that my choices were limited, I could have Scruffy euthanized, I could have him neutered and leave him as an outdoor cat knowing he might infect other cats, or I could merge him with my healthy cats (I had four other rescued cats at the time). There was and still seems to be an ongoing debate about how cats contract FIV. Some veterinarians believe FIV can be passed by mutual grooming, and eating out of a food dish. Others believe FIV can only be passed through blood; a bite or during gestation from a mother to her offspring. All my research led me to believe that FIV cats can lead a reasonably normal life, provided they have good nutrition, and a safe, comfortable indoor environment. Dr. Mike Richards says, “Feline immune deficiency virus infection does not lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome in cats as often as human immunodeficiency virus leads to AIDS in people.” The largest threat to FIV-positive cats is secondary infections, such as bladder, skin, and upper respiratory infections. Kidney failure is also frequent in cats with FIV. So keeping all this in mind, I made a decision to neuter scruffy and merge him with my other cats. My deepest fear was that I would expose my other cats to FIV. The vaccine for FIV had just been placed on the market, but it was controversial so I choose not to vaccinate the healthy cats.
Four years later, Scruffy is still a sweet, adorable, athletic cat with FIV. My other cats are all healthy and still test negative for FIV. Maybe I was lucky, or maybe this is proof that the disease is not transferred through mutual grooming. It’s estimated about 12% of cats in the United States have FIV. Many never develop symptoms of the illness. I think part of the reason that Scruffy and my other cats remain healthy is that my house is a good place for animals; routine bedtimes, good quality food, constant accessibility to clean water, and a lack of external stress-my house is quiet and peaceful most of the time. If you adopt a cat with FIV, plan on keeping it indoors. Also, find out how far the disease has progressed. A cat with FIV exposure is far different from a cat with high FIV symptoms, or secondary symptoms of the illness. Many FIV exposed cats can live a relatively normal life provided they are in indoor pet, and receive good pet care.