FIV Myths And Facts
- Myth #1: The FIV Test Proves Your Cat Has A Deadly Disease
- Myth #2: FIV+ Cats Will Lead Short, Miserable Lives & Eventually Die From Cat AIDS
- Myth #3: The FIV Virus Is A Serious Threat To Other Cats, Pets, Perhaps Even Humans
- Myth #4: Kittens Who Test Positive For FIV Will Always Test Positive For FIV
- Myth #5: There Is No Point In Adopting An FIV+ Cat
Myth #1: The FIV Test Proves Your Cat Has A Deadly Disease
The ELISA Test (aka Snap)—used by virtually all shelters and vet offices—looks for antibodies to the FIV virus, not the presence of the actual virus.
In the case of kittens under 6-months of age, a ‘positive’ result can mean the kitten has inherited antibodies from it’s mother —not that it has—a virus. These inherited antibodies usually go away by 6 months. Meaning they never had FIV to begin with.
The darker side of testing is the existence of ‘false positives’ (test errors). False-positives are when the test show a cat as positive for FIV but they are not. Many shelters, unaware of these test errors, use these tests results and label a cat as ‘FIV’ which in some shelter means a death sentence. Estimates of the magnitude of this travesty range from 20% to 32%.*
But the problem is bigger yet. That statistic applies to adult cats; errors in measuring kittens is far higher.
One final problem is that cats who were inoculated against the virus — upon Vet advice that was valid 10 years ago — now produces the identical test result: a positive for FIV antibodies. For many shelters this means yet another kill order is needlessly issued.
This flawed test (ELISA aka SNAP) has been used to justify thousands of deaths a year.
FIV is not a deadly virus. FIV is not Feline AIDS. (See Myth #2).
Over and over we shall see this: Most cats with so-called “Advanced cases of FIV” are indistinguishable from cats with normal aging symptoms. So why the rush to kill?
* “Our recent study found 32% of FIV Snap @ ELISA positive tests were negative by our WB [Western Blot Test].” Published by National Veterinary Laboratory, an IDEXX competitor.
Myth #2: FIV+ Cats Will Lead Short, Miserable Lives & Eventually Die From Cat AIDS
FIV+ cats with homes can and DO live long, healthy normal lives … when given the chance.
Statistically, most FIV cats* live as long as their indoor counterparts (13-18 years), and much longer, in fact, than cats that live outdoors (3-8 years). There are many reported cases where FIV+ cats live well into old age without ever showing any symptoms.
Typical causes of death are geriatric.
In short, if misguided people did not kill them for no good reason, the cats would likely live a full healthy life.
“FIV positive” is just a diagnosis (a not-so-educated guess) that someday a problem might develop.
Cat AIDS (more accurately called Feline AIDS) is claimed to be the 4th and final stage of FIV by researchers. Those researchers also agree that most cats never reach that stage.
Query: what do you call a “disease stage” that is seldom reached, takes over a decade, and is better explained by other forces (i.e. Aging)?
Answers: Illusory Correlation and Confirmation Bias are both good choices. (Google if you are curious). The process itself is a classic case of a logical fallacy known by its Latin name “Post hoc ergo propter hoc.”
To demonstrate the lack of logic of this type of thinking, many cats die of cancer. Does that mean that cancer was lurking in the cat’s system for many years, waiting for its “stage” to appear? Hardly.
Why not claim that cancer is the Final stage of FIV, since it is a statistically more likely event?
To translate the Latin above [and remove the fallacy part]: After the fact does not mean there is any causal relationship. After the fact means 1 thing: event 2 occurred after event 1. NOTHING ELSE!
Most FIV cats die of old age diseases. PERIOD.
Most FIV cats live relatively healthy lives. PERIOD.
Those who claim otherwise need to bring their knowledge up to date.
It is impossible to predict the long-term outlook for any particular cat diagnosed as FIV, just as it is with a Non-FIV cat. As we mentioned earlier, the asymptomatic ‘stage’ can, and usually does, extend for many, many years.
Research has yet to document any shortening of life from FIV. Only the statistically rare disease Feline AIDS causes a demonstrable loss of longevity.
With modern advances in veterinary care, along with some holistic,natural strategies that pet guardians have been quietly testing for the last 2 decades, even if the cat does develop Feline AIDS, there are still options!
*Above references are to non-feral cats. Feral cats are difficult to track, are habitually malnourished, rarely receive any medical treatment, and have a multitude of other environmental challenges.
Myth #3: The FIV Virus Is A Serious Threat To Other Cats, Pets, Perhaps Even Humans
In the first place, FIV is species-specific. The “F” in FIV stands for Feline. It does not stand for Fido or Family. Okay?
Dogs, other pets, and humans are absolutely immune.
The virus itself is astonishingly frail. It can live outside of the body for only a few seconds. The virus is extremely slow acting.
Modern research indicates that transmission requires serious physical interaction.
“Deep bite wounds are, by far, the primary mode of the virus’ transmission.” Dr. Julie Levy, DVM, PhD (confirmed by several other researchers).
Normal social interactions between FIV and Non-FIV cats, such as grooming, sharing food and water bowls, and community litter boxes have no known risk of transmission.
Myth #4: Kittens Who Test Positive For FIV Will Always Test Positive For FIV
If a mother cat has FIV antibodies, her kittens have a good chance of possessing them … at birth. Some Shelters do not even bother with the formality of a test – if mom tests positive, all are summarily executed.
I pause for the stunning stupidity of that Shelter policy to sink in.
Oh, but the picture is far worse. As any trained feline professional should know, birth transmitted antibodies are rare!
And the coup de gras (unfortunately delivered by those more deserving of receiving than giving) is this: even if momentarily present, such meaningless antibodies usually go away naturally by the time a kitten is 8 months old. [That process is known as seroreversion. That is, it is known by those who care enough to learn fundamental facts regarding their profession.]
Pause #2: actually stupidity is overly generous; it seems more like criminal negligence on their part, with full-blown sociopathology only a few litters … and paychecks away.
Tests prior to 8 months of age are:
- A waste of money (much better used elsewhere, such as neutering)
- A waste of time (how about finding homes instead of filling body bags?)
- Serve no positive purpose
- Irresponsible in the extreme.
Why? Because the results are MEANINGLESS!
“Kittens born to FIV positive mothers are at low risk for infection,although they may initially test positive due to the presence of maternal antibodies.”
Koret Shelter Medicine Program
“Infected mothers rarely, if ever, pass the infection to their kittens.”
Dr. Niels Pederson, part of the team that discovered the FIV virus.
Myth #5: There Is No Point In Adopting An FIV+ Cat
FIV+ cats can live long, healthy lives as beloved companions.
They are susceptible to the same ailments as all other cats. While they may become ill due to progression of the virus after many years, NON-FIV cats may die young, too.
Our Sammy died of congestive heart failure at 2 years. She was NON-FIV.
Tara, another rescue cat of ours, died of mammary gland cancer at age 6. She, too, was NON-FIV.
On the other hand, a pair of FIV+ brothers, Romeo and Captain, had been abandoned for an unknown number of years. When we adopted them the day before the shelter was going to kill them, they were huddled and terrified in 2 tiny cages in the quarantine room. No volunteer was allowed to even touch them.
Like cats who live on their own, they were dirty and had fleas. But also like cats fending for themselves, all they needed was a little care: food, warmth and love. That’s where we came in.
About a week after they came to FIV Cat Rescue, Romeo seemed to be in pain whenever he moved. We rushed him to the vet’s office.
To our Vet’s amazement, the check-up x-ray revealed over 100 buck-shots in Romeo’s sad, stout body. Yet with much mutual love and some pain meds, he lived to purr another 4 well-fed years. He finally passed away without ever showing any signs of Feline Aids at age 16.
Captain is still with us at age 18. He is currently in palliative care from an old age disease: Chronic Renal Failure. He gets daily pain and kidney meds. He is one of our visitor’s favorite cats
We do not regret adopting any of these wonderful cats. For a measure of time, each was surrounded by love, warmth and good care and free from worries. They only worry was which cat bed or cat tree to sit on. They also brought their own unique joy into our lives.
The point in adopting any cat is to save its life and enrich your own.