One of the biggest, and often incorrectly answered, questions about FIV+ cats is, “Can they live together with FIV- cats without passing the virus on?” There are many people, vets included, who will tell you, “Absolutely not. FIV+ cats should be kept separate from FIV- cats.” While this answer may be true in some cases, most of the time it is perfectly okay for FIV+ cats to live alongside FIV- cats. This question does not have a black and white answer. The answer all depends on the temperament of the cats involved. As FIV is transmitted through deep bite wounds (NOT through shared food and water bowls or mutual grooming), as long as the cats get along well together, there is little to no risk of the virus being transmitted. If the cats are spayed/neutered and are introduced properly, then most likely they will get along just fine and will pose no threat to each other. However, there are exceptions to this rule – some cats just do not like other cats and may be aggressive even after they’ve been spayed/neutered and introduced properly. When deciding if your FIV+ cat should coexist with your FIV- cat, it is important to evaluate the situation and the dynamic between the cats before making a decision.
Now, you can read articles all day long that say that FIV+ cats can healthily and peacefully coexist with FIV- cats, but there is nothing like reading real-life accounts that prove this claim to be true. I decided to reach out to the FIV-Cat Owners Support Group on Facebook and ask for anyone willing to come forward and share the story of how their FIV+ cats live alongside their FIV- cats. I had an overwhelming response of positive stories, and absolutely no negative ones. Below are seven real-life examples of FIV+ cats living healthy and happy lives alongside their FIV- fursiblings. One story is of a cat family that you probably already know!
How did you come to have Cheeto? He found us in the Fall of 2000. He was 9 months old and FIV+.
How many FIV- cats lived with Cheeto? One – Ginger
Did you vaccinate Ginger against FIV? Yes
How long did Cheeto and Ginger live together? Both cats shared food bowls, litter boxes, and lived together for 10 years.
Cheeto’s health history: Cheeto’s health began to fail at about age 9. He developed a thyroid condition and lost weight. We started him on medication, and his weight improved, but a year later he developed diarrhea and lost more weight. The medication was not working even after increasing the dosage. His teeth had also become an issue, as we did not know FIV+ cats’ teeth should be regularly cleaned. So with great sorrow we put him down in 2011.
Other information: Ginger is still with us. I regret giving her the FIV vaccine. You have to evaluate each cat’s situation separately – if the cats get along and the FIV+ cat is of gentle spirit and doesn’t fight or bite, there is no need to vaccinate your other cats. Ginger is doing fine at 20, her golden years. I would not hesitate to get 2 FIV+ cats for my next adoption.
Cheeto has a Facebook page that his mom continues to maintain. We recommend checking it out: FIV Cheeto Cat
How did you come to have Ernie? Ernie was a skinny stray that was sociable but wary. My plan wasn’t to keep him, but get him cleaned up, neutered, and find him a home. I found out he had FIV when I took him to get neutered.
How long have you had Ernie? 3.5 years
How many FIV- cats have lived with Ernie? Four
Did you vaccinate your other cats against FIV? No, and they all continue to test negative
Did you have to keep Ernie segregated from your other cats? Yes, at first
How did you manage the segregation and the introductions? We kept him segregated while we figured out what we were going to do with him. I built a screen that I could put in the doorway of my guest room so he could see my cats, but they couldn’t touch each other. I made contact with an FIV sanctuary, the FBC Sanctuary, and they agreed to take him but really encouraged me to keep him. I even found a no kill shelter that was willing to take him, but by that time we had fallen in love with him. So, I continued to keep him segregated. He was a biter, but that was subsiding once I had him neutered. I’d place food bowls on each side of the screen I built so my cats would go check him out. Once he stopped biting, I put slats of wood in the lower part so legs could reach through but no danger of biting. I eventually but him on a harness and leash and would take him out. This whole process took nine months before he was out 24/7 with my other cats.
Other information: Ernie’s only vet expenses are yearly dental cleanings. He’s not on any special diet and is a fat, calm, happy tabby. My vet was initially against him living with my negative cats, but has now changed his opinion.
How did you come to have Bulby? He was a stray by my work – very friendly and came up to people all the time. I decided to adopt him two days after finding out about him. It was a very hot summer, July in NJ – about 100 degrees with 100% humidity. He was extremely thin and had a nasty cut on his tail. He was suffering with the heat. When we brought him to the shelter to get checked out, I told them I would adopt him and pay for all the costs. He ended up testing positive for FIV.
How long have you had Bulby? 3 years
How many FIV- cats have lived with Bulby? Five
Did you vaccinate your other cats against FIV? No, and they all continue to test negative.
How did you introduce Bulby to your other cats? I kept him separate at first, and then slowly introduced him to the others, starting with one of my non FIV kitties who likes everyone and everything- dogs, cats, rabbit, it doesn’t matter. They got along great, so then I introduced everyone else one by one. I did supervised visits until I felt like there wouldn’t be issues. This is the same way I introduce cats, whether they are FIV+ or not.
Other information: My vet originally told me that Bulby wouldn’t be able to be integrated with my other cats; they would get FIV from him. I then went to work to found out all I could about FIV. I learned as long as he wasn’t aggressive to other cats and didn’t bite them, all would be fine. I called a couple of rescue groups, and they were a great resource of information as well. I have since told my vet he gave me bad information and let him know that I did integrate Bulby. He was surprised everything was going well.
How did you come to have Charlie? Charlie lived outside for about 1 1/2 years on my patio. I provided him with shelter, food, and warm milk everyone morning. He was getting into fights at night and got some wounds. So in June 2013 I had him neutered and brought him inside.
How many FIV- cats have lived with Charlie? Three
Did you vaccinate your other cats against FIV? No
How did you introduce Charlie to your other cats? They were already used to seeing him, so it wasn’t a big deal. A little hissing from the females, but I expected that.
Other information: It was 2 months after I brought Charlie inside that I found out he had FIV. I was devastated and separated him from the others until I researched and educated myself enough to feel comfortable to let them be together again. He is wonderful – almost acts appreciative for what he has now.
How did you come to have Aurora? I volunteered at a cat rescue and Aurora was trapped. She was obviously dumped and starving. She spent 8 months in a cage and started getting depressed. So I offered to foster in September 2010. I wound up adopting her in October 2011. She is extremely shy and FIV+ so no one wanted her except me.
How many FIV- cats have lived with Aurora? Two
Did you vaccinate your other cats against FIV? No, and they continue to test negative
How did you introduce Aurora to your other cats? I always integrate new cats the same way. Keep them in a separate room for 2 weeks, then let them see each other for a few days through a baby gate, and then let a new cat out supervised for short periods of time. Aurora doesn’t like other cats but my cats don’t fight much so the worst problem I had was hissing and swatting. Aurora was free roaming within a week of slow introductions. They coexist just fine. They eat out of each others bowls, share litter boxes, etc.
Other information: The only real health issues that Aurora has is bad teeth from gum disease, but I knew about that before I adopted her. Overall she is very healthy. She occasionally gets a URI when stressed but always gets over it quickly without any meds. She is actually healthier than some of my other cats.
How did you come to have Mr. Buttons? He was a foster. I didn’t know he had FIV until his adoptive parents returned him for testing positive. I ended up keeping him.
How long have you had Mr. Buttons? Three years
How many FIV- cats have lived with Mr. Buttons? Six
Did you vaccinate your other cats against FIV? No
How did you introduce Mr. Buttons to your other cats? He had been a very even tempered foster for over 4 months by the time I adopted him and knew he had FIV. His scent was well known and vice versa, which smoothed his integration to the family.
Other information: Mr. Buttons does has had a bit of stomatitis and has most of his teeth out. Since his last dental, he is much happier and I was thinking of having the rest taken out as prophylaxis.
Mr. Buttons has a blog that he shares with the rest of his family. We hope you’ll stop by and visit him – Tomcat Commentary by Tim
C & W Rustic Hollow Shelter
C & W Rustic Animal Shelter, located in Iowa, is a non profit, cage-free sanctuary for special needs felines with disabilities, chronic medical conditions, those with Feline Leukemia or FIV, and felines displaced at the death of their guardian. They have have four sanctuary buildings. Each building has an outdoor enclosure that the felines can safely go outside in, complete with climbing trees limbs and shelves.
From the director, Carmen: “We probably have around 60 FIV+ cats. In our home alone there are 30 FIV- cats and 5 FIV+ cats living together and have for years. In another area we have 60 cats and probably 15 FIV+ living with them. No problems, no issues. And I am sure that in one of our other houses there are at least 10 FIV+ cats mingling every day with 60 FIV- cats too. Our “FIV” building mainly holds FIV+ cats there too, 45 about, and there are negatives with them as well.”
Carmen also shared a very eye opening article with me about a rescue organization in Chicago that integrated their FIV+ cats with their FIV- cats. After one year, they tested all of the FIV- cats (over 100 cats), and every single one of them continued to test negative. Integrating the FIV+ cats with the FIV- cats also helped tremendously with adoptions of their FIV+ cats. Check out the article and see for yourself.
As you can see, it is very possible for FIV+ cats to healthily and happily coexist with FIV- cats without transmitting the virus. If more people came to this realization, then much of the negative hype surrounding FIV would disappear and more FIV+ cats would be adopted. So please, consider sharing this article and help educate about FIV. It could save a life!