FIV-positive and negative cats living together: What you need to know

Evidence of whether FIV can be transmitted through casual contact between cats living together has been hard to come by, leaving animal shelters in a bind. What should they tell potential adopters when they ask if they can add a FIV-positive cat to their existing household? How about if a community member asks if they can safely keep their own recently-diagnosed cat? And are the kittens of FIV-positive mothers who come into a shelter inevitably going to become FIV-positive themselves?

Presentation on Cohabitation of FIV-positive and FIV-negative Cats

At the 2014 Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Conference, Annette Litster, BVSc, PhD, MMedSci, Fellow ACVSC, walked the audience through a new study of cats living together in a home setting as well as the kittens of FIV-positive mothers in an animal shelter.

One group of 138 cats lived in a large, home-like setting; eight of them were FIV-positive, and all the cats had unrestricted access to each other.

The second group were the 19 kittens of 5 FIV-positive mothers.

In the first group, none of the 50 cats available for testing over the entire period of the study had a change in their FIV status. In the second, none of the kittens became FIV-positive.

So, at least for the cats in this study, sharing food and water, minor spats, and mutual grooming did not transmit FIV; nor was there maternal transmission to kittens.

Dr. Litster suggested the following:

  • Careful management is required when cats are first introduced
  • Determine FIV status first
  • Observe closely
  • If there is a reasonable suspicion of agonistic interactions, segregate
  • Determine FIV status of all incoming cats
  • Test kittens after weaning and if positive, re-test again after 6 months old

You can watch her presentation below:

Dr. Litster’s study was published in The Veterinary Journal in 2014. The abstract can be read, and the complete study purchased, at the following link:

Litster A. Transmission of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) among cohabiting cats in two cat rescue shelters. Vet J. 2014 Mar 31.