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Advice & welfare


What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)?

FIV is a viral infection that affects cats. The virus infects the cells of the cat’s immune system and compromises the immune system making them vulnerable to other (secondary) infections. FIV only affects cats and cannot be passed to humans or other animal species.

FIV is spread through salvia and is usually passed to other cats via deep bite wounds (inflicted during fights). FIV is not spread through cats grooming each other, sharing food and water bowls, or sharing a litter box and cats may live together for years without ever transmitting the disease.

FIV can also be transmitted via blood transfusions.

FIV is common and widespread throughout the world. It is approximated that 14% of cats coming into SPCA care have FIV. Once a cat is infected with the FIV virus it will remain infected for the rest of their life, but may not get ill.

Does SPCA screen all cats for FIV?

No. SPCA DOES NOT routinely test for FIV. FIV testing is unreliable in the shelter environment for several reasons:

  1. There can be a large incubation period of up to 60 days between when a cat contracts FIV and when testing is able to detect the disease. This means that if SPCA screened all cats that pass through our care, some would return a false negative (meaning we think they don’t have FIV when they actually do!) because they are still in the lag-time.
  2. Some cats with FIV also return a false-negative on the test if they are already in the later stages of the disease.
  3. Cats can also return a false-positive test for FIV if they have previously been vaccinated for the disease or if they have had some maternal antibodies to the disease passed down from the mother cat. A false-positive would mean we think the cat has FIV when it fact he/she does not.

When do you test?

Due to the risk of false-negative and false-positive test results we do not test all cats that come through our care, but there are still occasions when we might decide to test an individual cat. For example, if we have a sick cat in our care that is not responding to treatment as we might expect. FIV testing may be used to form part of the cat’s diagnostic plan.

Is the cat I’m adopting FIV positive?

If the cat your adopting has been tested for FIV and has tested positive you will be made aware of this.

We recommended that if you are at all concerned about the health of your newly adopted cat that you visit your veterinarian without delay. Your veterinarian can perform a simple in-house test to check FIV status.

What if the cat I adopted is diagnosed with FIV after adoption?

Animals adopted from the SPCA will always ultimately be accepted back into SPCA care if the adopter wants to return them (providing resources allow as per SPCA’s managed entry procedure). This includes any cat that might test positive for FIV after adoption.

Adopters may also have rights and remedies available to them under the Consumer Guarantees Act 19993. Subject to this Act, if the adopted animal shows signs of ill health within 14 days of the day of the agreement, SPCA may, in its sole discretion, refund part of the veterinary costs incurred, provided:

  1. SPCA is given immediate notice of the illness;
  2. The animal is taken to a veterinary facility of SPCA’s choice; and
  3. SPCA agrees in writing to provide the refund prior to the commencement of any treatment

Is there treatment available for FIV?

There is no treatment for FIV. A vaccination is available in New Zealand for the prevention of FIV. Cats diagnosed with FIV can live long and healthy lives. SPCA does not vaccinate cats against FIV and recommends that you discuss vaccination with your veterinarian.

Cats diagnosed with FIV can live long and healthy lives.

What are the signs of FIV infection?

A cat that is newly infected with FIV can sometimes show mild illness, increased body temperature (fever) or a drop in appetite, in other cats here will be no visible signs. After this time that cat may not be sick for months or until much later in life. When the virus is active at various times throughout the cat’s life it acts to weaken the cat’s immune system and leaves it vulnerable to different infections, which may not respond adequately to treatment.

What do I need to know about adopting a cat with FIV?

Stay at home cats

SPCA recommends that all cats are stay at home cats meaning you actively prevent them from leaving your property at all times through an enriched indoor environment and/or safe enclosed outdoor space. There are a number of ways you can keep your cat safely at home and it is particularly important you do this with an FIV cat. This will prevent the risk of them infecting other cats and reduce the exposure of your FIV cat to other infectious diseases and parasites. We have a very helpful guide on our website with tips on how to keep your cat safe and happy at home www.spca.nz/advice-and-welfare/article/keeping-your-cat-safe-and-happy-at-home

Multi-cat households

FIV positive cats can live in house-holds with other non-infected cats. It is very rare for desexed cats living in the same household to fight aggressively so the risk of FIV transmission is low. There is a moderate risk when introducing new cats together so care should always be taken to ensure that aggressive fighting doesn’t occur and the introduction is a smooth one. SPCA centre staff can provide you with additional advice regarding introductions and you can refer to our website for extra tips www.spca.nz/advice-and-welfare/article/bringing-your-new-cat-home


Stress can sometimes play a role in re-activating the FIV virus. Cats should be gradually introduced to other animals in your home and you should ensure there are lots of resources available in multi-cat households to avoid conflict. This includes having multiple litter trays, food bowls, beds, hiding places, vertical spaces and enrichment items (e.g. scratching posts).

Preventative care

An FIV infected cat may live free of FIV-related symptoms their entire lifetime (with any secondary infections treated as they arise). You should ensure that you cat has regular (twice-yearly) general health check-ups with your veterinarian and preventative health measures (e.g. vaccination and parasite treatment) are kept up to date. If your cat shows any symptoms of illness they must see your veterinarian as soon as possible.


Nutrition plays a vital role in supporting health. All cats should be maintained on a good quality, complete and balanced diet in consultation with your veterinarian. Raw meat, eggs and unpasteurised dairy should be avoided to reduce the risk of exposure to parasites and bacteria that might cause disease.

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