Should he stay or should he go? FIV+ cat in multicat household.
October 10, 2016 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Last week I posted about a stray cat I found. I got him checked out by the vet and he's FIV+. Vet said he's about a year old and showing no symptoms. I have two existing cats that AFAIK are FIV- (they've never been outside or come into contact with other cats). What should I do?

The players: Spooky, the new one year old. Squeaky, the 10 year old. Damon, the 15 year old. The older two are neutered, Spooky is not (but will be). All of them have claws but are not destructive or aggressive. The latter two have been with me since they were kittens, and get along very well. I have kept Spooky separated from the other two for a week, with his own litterbox/food/water and followed the recommended new-cat introduction protocol.

This weekend, I allowed them tightly supervised together time. After some mild initial curiosity, the older two seem mostly unconcerned and generally just walk away from him. After a little while they settled in. There has been minimal hissing and zero physical contact apart from one playful, kittenish ambush that did not involve teeth or claws. While I'm gone or too busy to supervise, I keep Spooky locked in the bedroom.

I see several options here:

1. Surrender him to a shelter. Pro: No worries about keeping them separate or infecting my other two. Con: He is at higher risk of getting sick at a shelter. It's mid-October and he's a black cat. They might be unable to rehome him and he will be put down. I will forever feel guilty about this.

2. Keep him until I find someone on my own. I have already exhausted my social network; everyone either has cats or doesn't want any/allergic. The vet has given me numbers of rescue groups/shelters; I have not called them yet because I have not made a decision. I'm reluctant to give him to a stranger who might declaw him or let him outside. The downside of "fostering" him: it's inconvenient to keep him separated, and having a litterbox in the bedroom is not ideal for my sanity, especially since it's getting too cold for open windows.

3. Keep him and vaccinate my own cats. Pro: less worry about cross-infection. Cons: the vaccine is not 100% effective, and they will always test positive thereafter so I won't really know if they have it. The everyday added expense of food/litter is no problem for me, but increased/frequent vet bills will be a slight strain, though possible. Other: My older cats have had a good long life already, and I wouldn't take the risk if they were much younger or more hostile.

I am leaning towards #3 but I want to make sure I'm not doing something unethical. I have found a lot of conflicting advice online, from "don't worry about it if they're not fighting; transmission is rare" to "omg you're a monster if you risk your other cats." I will absolutely neuter Spooky before I leave them unsupervised, but if he's calm now, that should lessen the of aggression even more. The other two have tussled over the course of their lives, but have never broken skin (except the idiot who bit his own tail many years ago).

I'm hoping to hear from someone who has been in this situation, or is a vet, or who works at a rescue and is familiar with this conundrum. It's gutwrenching; he's very affectionate, follows me everywhere and sleeps next to me.

[previous related question, but about a more complex situation]
posted by AFABulous to Pets & Animals (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My understanding is that the only way for FIV to be transmitted between kitties is blood to blood contact, meaning the kitties basically have to be having violent fights (not playfighting, real fighting) in order to become infected. I've heard of many people who keep FIV positive and negative kitties together in the same house and the negative kitties remain healthy and uninfected.

Based on what you've described, I'd have no qualms keeping the new kitty. I would just supervise them closely during the first couple weeks to make sure they get along ok.
posted by a strong female character at 8:33 AM on October 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There is a newish study that says you have nothing to worry about as long as your cats aren't biting the shit out of one another.

Given your other cats' age, and if they are cool with your new buddy, I'd keep him. Your older cat going to be fine probably for another five years - 20 is super old for a cat and if he's chill now, he's chill. Your other cat is middle aged and also, chill is chill. This little guy deserves a loving home and you clearly care for him, and your other cats are not upset. As long as everyone is being sweet there is literally nothing to worry about.

Snuggle that little boo this season and thank you for saving a black cat during the worst time of year for humans who are terrible.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:36 AM on October 10, 2016 [21 favorites]

Keep him!
posted by DMelanogaster at 8:43 AM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well this is just one data point, but I was in your exact same situation years ago, except that I had had my two (indoor) cats vaccinated against FIV before taking in a stray who turned out to be FIV+.

I decided to keep the stray, even though the vet told me that the vaccination was not 100% effective -- more like 95%. That was a long time ago, so maybe the vaccinations are stronger now? But I would not count on it.

My cats did not fight with the stray. One ignored him, and the other became his pal, cuddling and sleeping with him.

The stray cat eventually died of FELV. But so did the cat who had befriended him -- one of the best cats I have ever known.

To this day, I regret not following the vet's advice to not keep the stray.
posted by merejane at 8:46 AM on October 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

FELV is not the same thing as FIV.
posted by a strong female character at 8:54 AM on October 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

Fyi, there are sanctuaries that take in FIV cats. I don't know how difficult it is to place a cat in one of these sanctuaries, but given how much you care for this kitty, it might be worth looking into.
posted by merejane at 8:54 AM on October 10, 2016

Best answer: We had a FIV+ kitty for 8 years with a FIV- cat. Cat2 is still FIV free, and Cat1 lived a very healthy (for a FIV+ cat) and long lifespan with us. I would keep Spooky. FIV can only be transmitted through bites which break the skin - typically presaged through pretty serious fights. Our vet said "contracted through fights that clearly appear to be a fight to the death" - definitely not playful or even casually grumpy fights. If you're not seeing that kind of behavior, your other cats will likely be fine.

I wouldn't bother with vaccinating your other cats. First, it is because even the makers of the vaccine only think it is about 80% effective - many vets consider it far less effective. Second, every cat that is vaccinated will test as FIV+ for the rest of their lives - so you will never know if they got FIV+ and need additional care or not. Third - let's just imagine that one of your FIV- cats escapes or runs away and is picked up by animal control. As soon as they test FIV+, that is a nearly automatic death sentence in most shelters.

I would, however, get Spooky neutered immediately.

Here's my additional recommendation - make sure your feline household is on a good diet. FIV+ cats are special little special needs cats, and could use a good grain free diet (Innova, Blue Buffalo are a few excellent options). Also, consider switching to a home vet? Your FIV+ buddy is immunosuppressed so is much more sensitive to illnesses he could be exposed to by visiting the vet. By having a vet come to you none of your three cats will be exposed to things like the common cold which could be really bad for Spooky.

Feel free to PM me with FIV+ related questions, our guy stayed super healthy and lived a very long life (for a FIV+ formerly feral cat who spent his first two years on the streets). I'd adopt a FIV+ cat again without any question.
posted by arnicae at 8:54 AM on October 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: merejane, I'm having trouble parsing the double negatives in your last sentence. Should that be "I regret following the vet's advice to keep the stray" - you wish you had not kept him? (Also agreed that FeLV is not the same thing as FIV)
posted by AFABulous at 8:55 AM on October 10, 2016

I adopted a senior cat about two years ago, and was told he tested negative for FIV. This brought the total number of cats in my house up to three.

Fast forward to last month when I had to take him to the vet for a double ear infection, and he tested positive for FIV. (but negative for FeLV)

The other two feline housemates have since been tested and are negative.

I do get worried that one day he'll spread it to them, but the other option is to put him down (no one is going to adopt a 11y old black FIV+ cat) and I just can't bring myself to. He's healthy, everyone is happy. I don't know what the "responsible pet owner thing" to do is. The vet told me that other vets would suggest putting him down - but she didn't suggest that unless his ear infection didn't improve on meds. (it did)

I'm going to stick with my choice not to put him down or get rid of him.
posted by INFJ at 9:08 AM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Keep. You're doing the right thing.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:16 AM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Keep him. I've had multiple FIV+ cats in multicat households and it was fine. The negative cats never got it, the FIV+ cats lived to be old and died of other causes.
posted by Violet Hour at 9:43 AM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh my god, you already had two lovely black kitties and then a third sweet black kitty came into your life? I will try not to let that influence my advice but it seems so perfect.

My read is that you are already very bonded with him and want to keep him, and that you are a responsible pet owner with a realistic outlook and access to vet care, and for these reasons, I would encourage you to keep him if I am reading you correctly and that is what is in your heart.

Not to be morbid but unfortunately no cat lives forever and if you take the best possible care of them (which I have no doubt you'll do) then no one can blame you if something happens to any of them.

Did you ask the shelter or vet what they would do in your situation? That phrasing tends to work well with vets; cuts through the professional hedging they have to do.
posted by kapers at 9:54 AM on October 10, 2016 [8 favorites]

Another anecdote chiming in -- we have an FIV+ cat and an FIV- cat. We finally did vaccinate, but not for the first few years, and despite plenty of grumpy swipes at one another, the FIV- cat didn't contract it.
posted by slidell at 10:09 AM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Did you ask the shelter or vet what they would do in your situation?

I asked the vet and he leaned slightly towards re-homing, or neutering/vaccinating if I decided to keep him. He was hedging with "he could live a long life or he could suddenly get really sick." He did say that it's possible that at such a young age, if he'd been recently infected, his body could fight it off and his viral load would be undetectable (like some HIV+ humans). The vet's assistant assumed I would want to give him up and gave me phone #s of shelters/rescues (I somehow managed not to ugly cry until I got in the car).

Assuming I keep him (which is now a strong possibility), I would 1) neuter him (already made an appointment since posting this question); 2) re-test him in 3 months; 3) if still positive, consider vaccinating the other cats. The internet says that false positives are also possible, just like with humans, and another test should have been done. I'm a little skeptical of this vet now because 1) he didn't suggest a second test and 2) he never took the cat's temp at the checkup or looked in his ears/eyes, which I've never seen before. This is not my regular vet (long story) so I'll take him to the regular one next time.
posted by AFABulous at 10:34 AM on October 10, 2016

I think you already know what you want to do, right? And it's also very clear that Spooky wants to be your cat.

My worry in this situation would be: would I be able to watch them engaging in normal cat-play together -- chasing, stalking, wrestling -- or would I always be on edge worrying about play escalating to aggression and the risk of transmission? It seems very positive here that they are already relaxed around each other.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:51 AM on October 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

"he could live a long life or he could suddenly get really sick."

FWIW there are no guarantees. My cat got cancer at 9 years old and lived another 2.5 years after that and he was generally healthy before that. It's like saying, "Well, I could die tomorrow but I might also not die tomorrow!" I hated that my baby was sick but I wouldn't trade a single second of his dorky life.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:52 AM on October 10, 2016

More anecdata here, I was in pretty much this exact situation, my stray kitty was FIV+ and FELV+, but all 3 kitties are/were very chill and the + one was neutered. So there were no fights beyond some friendly tussling occasionally. FIV/FELV+ kitty has since passed away (RIP Pipkin, you were a very good boy) but the other 2 are doing fine, they did get vaccinated at our vet's recommendation but they don't seem to have been negatively affected in any way by the 4 years they spent with their buddy.
So I vote to keep the newcomer but get him neutered ASAP.
posted by miaou at 10:58 AM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I volunteer at a cat rescue and we have FIV+ cats cohabitating happily in the general population of cats. (Like, they're all in one very large kitty-dream-come-true room full of cat furniture and toys, hanging out together.) They share bowls of kibble and water, sleep curled up together, and occasionally groom each other.

FIV is usually passed from un-neutered tom to un-neutered tom via biting during fights to establish territory. Chances of transmission between cats that coexist peacefully are very, very low. So get your new kitty fixed, keep him inside, and love him to pieces!
posted by jesourie at 12:07 PM on October 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Even if Spooky wasn't FIV+, you'd definitely want to get him neutered ASAP - having an intact tomcat in your house is a one-way ticket to Stinkytown, not to mention Fightyville. Neutered and spayed cats make better pets overall.

Chiming in with "FIV is not easily transmitted." It's usually passed by un-neutered toms fighting and drawing blood. The kind of playful wrestling that neutered cats do with one another won't harm them.

Congratulations on your new kitty!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:08 PM on October 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

My cat and I lived in a home with 2 other cats (and their owner), 1 of which ended up being FIV+. The 3 cats got along well, and the FIV+ cat actually would stage little play fights with the others, even. My cat and the other FIV negative one never got FIV from the positive cat.
posted by destructive cactus at 12:09 PM on October 10, 2016

Keep him, get him neutered, get the other two vaccinated. Make sure everyone stays in the house all the time so there's no risk to external kitties with fighting. He's adorable! Congrats on your three-kitty household.
posted by clone boulevard at 12:15 PM on October 10, 2016

Yep, take him to the vet to get tutored and keep that little sweetiepants.
posted by Stewriffic at 12:20 PM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's also important to note that FIV is *not* the same thing as FeLV, though you'll frequently see them used them interchangeably on the internet by people who otherwise seem to know what they're talking about.

FeLV is highly contagious and can be transmitted by friendly actions like grooming, sharing food/water, and/or bedding. There is no effective treatment. Cats that are FeLV positive should NOT live in a multi-cat household. The vast majority of cats with FeLV die within three years of infection.

FIV, as people have said above, is a totally different thing. While it does mean that you'll need to be a bit more proactive about monitoring his health and make sure that things like upper respiratory infections get treated and that his dental health is monitored, he is likely to live a very normal, healthy life.

Thanks for adopting black kitties! It's true that they're often the last to be adopted from shelters, and an FIV+ black kitty would be doubly so. You're doing a wonderful thing for him by making him a part of your family.
posted by jesourie at 12:20 PM on October 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: He was tested for FeLV and is negative, by the way, or I would never consider keeping him.
posted by AFABulous at 12:41 PM on October 10, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for adopting black kitties! It's true that they're often the last to be adopted from shelters

Then people are ignorant because BLACK CATS ARE BEST CATS.
posted by AFABulous at 12:42 PM on October 10, 2016 [17 favorites]

(I somehow managed not to ugly cry until I got in the car).

I think that's your answer. :) Congrats on the new kitty, he's lovely. :)
posted by joycehealy at 2:48 PM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

AFABulous, I see that you and others have pointed out that FIV and FeLV are not the same thing. I apologize for not realizing that, which led me to use both terms in my earlier post. (I was under the impression that FIV is to FeLV as HIV is to AIDS.)

I tried to check for records from when my two cats (the stray and one of my other cats) died, to see if it they had FIV or FeLV, but this happened long ago (1989), and I can't find the records in my files. I do remember that both my cats had been vaccinated against whatever the stray cat had.

I'm also sorry about the confusion from the double negative in my original post. The vet's advice was to not keep the stray, and I regret that I did not follow that advice. In other words, I wish I had followed his advice and re-homed the stray in a household without other cats, or in a shelter.

But again, I'm afraid I do not recall if the stray had FIV or FeLV, which I understand now are quite different in terms of how infectious they are. It may well have been FeLV, because it does seem clear that my old cat contracted it because of his close contact (snuggling, grooming, etc.) with the stray cat.

I'm apologize again for confusing this difficult issue!
posted by merejane at 3:33 PM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't have any direct experience with this, but I found this web page (from a cat rescue that takes in FIV+ and FeLV+ kitties). The information mostly echoes what other commenters have mentioned about severe bites being required, but it goes into a bit more depth about why this is the case, and I think this info will maybe provide some additional assurance:
The FIV virus is present in the saliva, and for transmission to another cat to take place, the live virus has to enter the bloodstream of the recipient cat.

There are two main reasons why FIV isn't transmitted via shared bowls or mutual grooming as is sometimes wrongly suggested:

Firstly the virus is very fragile, and does not live for long once outside the body - it is destroyed by drying, light, heat and basic detergents - normally the virus will be long-dead before any surfaces come to be cleaned, it is the initial drying that sees off the vast majority of the virus, and this will normally happen in seconds.

This is why the route of transmission is primarily via a bite, where the still wet saliva containing the live virus is effectively injected through the skin directly into contact with the blood of the recipient cat.

The second reason is that the mucous membrane is a fairly effective barrier to the virus, so even if some virus does enter the cat's mouth, it is very unlikely to cross the mucous membrane, so will likely die within the stomach. It has been suggested that, for the virus to actually infect a cat when taken in through the mouth, there would need to be ten thousand times as much virus present for it to achieve a cross infection.

Interestingly, this is confirmed by the fact that kittens born to an FIV+ mother are rarely infected with the virus - although the kittens are not infected directly in the womb, as the placenta will protect them, the virus is present in the mother's milk, so all kittens will have prolonged exposure to the live virus in their digestive systems, yet it is very uncommon for the kitten to actually become infected - this is testiment to how effective the mucous membrane must be in preventing transmission.

It is for these reasons that the often-prescribed "keep separate from other cats" is NOT valid. FIV cats can live communally with non-FIV cats with very little risk of the virus being transmitted between them - unless the cat is a fighter and gives another cat a serious bite, which is rare with properly introduced household cats. The vast majority of cats, once neutered, will not bite other cats they live with - they may play and scrap, but this rarely leads to the serious bite required to inject the virus. There are numerous examples of households with large numbers of cats living together with FIV-positive cats without the virus being transmitted. A slow and careful introduction is required when bringing any new cat into an existing household, especially so with an FIV cat.
I don't think anyone would blame you if you decided not to keep Spooky, but from what you've written here, it sounds like you've bonded with him a lot already. (And how could you not? Look at that cute little kitty! I wish I could reach through the screen and snuggle him myself).

I think you should go for option 3. After all, the only thing better than two cute kitties is three cute kitties.
posted by litera scripta manet at 5:32 PM on October 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not too worried about fighting anymore. Thanks for all your answers; I've marked this resolved.
posted by AFABulous at 6:39 PM on October 10, 2016 [14 favorites]

I came in late, or my response would have been more of the above. Congrats on the new friend!
posted by sockermom at 7:19 PM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on the new kitty! It sounds like he belongs with you. It was pretty obvious reading your initial post and replies how much love you were already feeling, so I'm glad you've decided to keep him!
posted by daybeforetheday at 2:30 AM on October 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by a strong female character at 7:08 AM on October 11, 2016

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