What is FIV?

Q. I was studying the receipt from my cat’s recent annual checkup, when I noticed that one of the tests I was charged for was something called “FIV.” What is this test, and is it really necessary?

A. The letters “FIV” on your receipt indicate that your cat was tested for the presence of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus – a chronic viral infection that belongs to the same family as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Your vet’s test was critical to ensuring the cat’s health, just like the other tests he or she performed.

FIV suppresses a cat’s immune system, so that he or she has a harder time fighting off infections. Eventually, an infected cat may succumb to diseases that can’t be cured.

The disease is usually contracted when one cat bites another (though not through casual contact). Even worse, there is no vaccine to prevent your cat from contracting FIV. So the vet’s test is designed to detect the virus as early as possible. This gives owners time to start protecting their infected cat’s health.

Results of an FIV test are often included on the receipt; a positive test would have prompted your vet to speak with you immediately after the checkup. However, if you’re not sure about the result, call the clinic.

For owners of FIV-infected cats, there is hope. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (which helps develop guidelines for veterinarians on cat care), FIV-positive cats can live for years without showing any outward signs of the disease. This means that caring for your cat will not be overly expensive.

Owners can protect their cat’s health – and the health of other cats – by keeping the infected feline indoors, reducing potential causes of stress, and feeding him or her a nutritious diet. Following these simple guidelines can give you many more happy, healthy years with your FIV-positive cat.

Originally published July 2, 2001.

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