A complicated situation with an FIV-positive (Feline HIV) cat...
May 1, 2007 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Our neighbor abandoned his cat. We've been taking care of him. We're moving. We just found out he has FIV (feline HIV.) The complex dilemmas and a plea for advice within...

This is a bit complicated, so I'll break it into steps:
1) We're moving. We have four cats. That's already pushing the limits of her new lease, but so far it is OK.
2) We've also been feeding another cat, an old tabby who was abandoned by the jackass crackhead next door. The other cat is an outdoor cat (maybe was once indoors - he's very gentle.)
3) We were going to take the tabby - his name is Mr. Jenkins - with us and continue basically the same arrangement (at some risk, see the "pushing the lease" comment, above.)
4) We took the tabby to the vet prior to moving to get him neutered. The vet told us he had feline HIV (FIV).
5) We know that Jenkins could (and maybe has) infected other cats, though he's certaintly not a fighter or a scratcher. We can't in good conscience leave him outside. We can't take him inside without being evicted. And though we're trying to adopt him out, today - May 1 - is the day we are leaving the old place. Right now, we've got him boarded at a vet's, but we can't afford that for long.
6) Except for some crusty nose stuff, the cat is totally energetic, healthy, and absolutely sweet. He's even fat. So the disease seems not to be affecting him now.

What do we do? In the cold, hard light of day, given the situation - and if we can't adopt him out - the humane thing to do to the OTHER cats would be to put him down. But, per item six, he's not sick seeming at all. In fact, he's happy. And I can't bear to put him down if he's not suffering.

posted by soulbarn to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you find a no-kill animal shelter in your area, and call them to explain the situation?
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:56 PM on May 1, 2007

We have an FIV positive cat (and actually 5 total), the FIV hasn't affected any of our other cats, and the FIV cat hasn't had any noticeable problems (though as long as my wife has had him, he's always had weird issues that didn't affect his quality of life, mainly obsessive grooming and throwing up every other week or so).

Personally, I would take care of him and not put him down. If you do keep him, don't expose yourself to other people's cats too often, especially if they're sick. Also, wash your hands after dealing with anyone else's cat.
posted by drezdn at 2:00 PM on May 1, 2007

I love pets, and have way too many myself, but I think you should have Mr. Jenkins put down if he's a risk to other cats and to your new lease. Leaving him with the Humane Society, and making a small donation, might help you disconnect a little from the tougher decisions.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:02 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

No, whatever you do, do not take poor Mr. Jenkins to a no-kill shelter. There are some fates worse than death, and no-kill shelters are one of them.

Yes, you can ethically put him down. Very sad, but Mr. Jenkins is an old cat. Not dying, but has lived a life.
posted by kika at 2:11 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's unfair and inaccurate to say that all no-kill shelters are bad because some of them are. I think taking him to a no-kill shelter is your best option, certainly better than putting down an otherwise healthy cat because he's an inconvenience.
posted by curie at 2:18 PM on May 1, 2007

I had a cat diagnosed FIV+ in 2000, at around age 13. She died last year, at age 19 (or more, we never knew her exact age) of old age-related cancer. The last six years of her life she was quite healthy, happy and loving, and never had any health problems we could attribute to being FIV+. I'm sure my cat was not unique in her health and that other cats could live several more healthy years. That may or may not help, I'm not sure.

What about testing your other four cats to see if they've already contracted FIV? If they have (or if you could keep him separated somehow), could you keep Mr. Jenkins until you can find him another home? Perhaps your new landlord would be okay with a short-term exception to the fifth cat?
posted by min at 2:21 PM on May 1, 2007

I agree with drezdn. I had a FIV+ cat that I had to put down when he was, believe it or not, 29 years old (and for renal failure unrelated to FIV). He was healthy and happy up to about a week before the end.

A lot of cats have FIV and never exhibit any symptoms. They can live long (really long), happy lives. I would take him in. As far as current understanding of the virus goes, I believe that in order to be transmitted a bite wound is necessary.

If you absolutely cannot keep him (but again, I really think you should), try to find a rescue group. I work with a pug rescue group, and my fosters are probably some of the happiest dogs on earth.
posted by bolognius maximus at 2:21 PM on May 1, 2007

Our last cat had FIV and I'm pretty sure the vet said something about being able to immunise cat's against the disease (I know, I questioned this to, but supposedly FIV is a bit of a different monster than HIV), but because it was fairly rare in Australia, it wasn't something that was done very often...

So, is there any way you can get your cats tested and then immunised? This would mean you can keep Mr. Jenkins inside and still be sure he won't affect your other cats...

(Oh, and BTW, 5 cats must be a challenge! We have two and they wreck about 10 times as much havoc as when we had one. I can't imagine having 5!)
posted by ranglin at 2:32 PM on May 1, 2007

Yes, try to find a local rescue group.

Also, why would your landlord know if you had one additional cat? If you added a Great Dane to the mix, sure, but one more cat?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:36 PM on May 1, 2007

This is not a complex situation, it's an unfortunate one.

Jenks may not be a fighter but you cannot have cats together and expect that one won't bite another at some point. Maybe it's play, maybe it's some freak coincidence where everyone's territorial behavior has its hot button pressed at once. Whatever. It's going to happen, which makes it a certainty that one or more of your other uninfected cats is at a risk for contractive FIV.

Jenks might live with FIV for the rest of his life and never have it impact him. You have no idea if your other cats will be that lucky. Would you deliberately feed them food that may be contaminated with the thought that perhaps it won't harm their health? I suspect not.

You need to take Jenks to the shelter, no-kill or not. You've taken on the responsibility to care for four cats already and you need to do what's best for them. If you just can't stomach that then just leave him and hope he finds some other soft touches to keep feeding him.

Accepting that there is a limit to what we can do for those in need is hard but refusing to do so is worse.
posted by phearlez at 3:14 PM on May 1, 2007

I have an FIV+ cat who's had the disease as long as I've had him. He's 9 and just now suffering from his first serious health problem, which is a heart murmur that my vet assures me is unrelated to the FIV. My other cats have never, ever contracted it.

Find yourself a vet that's knowledgable about FIV and ask them for their best advice about how to keep your other cats healthy in the presence of the FIV+ one. Or, if you really can't keep him with your lease, give him to a no-kill shelter that you're familiar with. They vary in quality, but you can find nice ones.
posted by christinetheslp at 3:23 PM on May 1, 2007

I'm in the market for a dog, and have been hitting the local shelters. There are a lot of older cats there-- I'm not sure if this is because their elderly owners die and the family isn't in a position to take care of the cat, or if people just flake and bring the cat in or what.

But it has repeatedly occurred to me, petting these cats through the wire of their cages, that for an older animal, being put to sleep while being held and petted by someone who cares for him and tickles his chin and tells him he's excellent has got to be a LOT better than the terrible stress of being put in a shelter at an advanced age, healthy or no.

(Some animals are not going to be rehomed - age or health or simple supply and demand all add up to what is effectively a death sentence for some animals, and I am not convinced that putting it off and making the animal live in a strange, scary, cramped environment with no scritches or laps or cuddles is somehow a kindness.)

You sound like very caring people, and this decision must be a really hard one. Good luck!
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:27 PM on May 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

ranglin is correct, you can now immunise cats against FIV, at least in Australia; my cat is a chronic fighter (despite being desexed and being kept in at night) and the vet immunised him last year. He has had no ill effects. So if you can afford to get the other cats immunised, and since they'll presumably be getting annual shots for cat flu and so forth, you might want to look into it.

Good luck, whatever you decide to do.
posted by andraste at 3:46 PM on May 1, 2007

if you're considering having him put down, have you considered leaving him where he is to be a stray? if his quality of life related to his health is ok, being a stray might be preferable to being dead, and he would not be a risk to your other cats. i have no experience with no-kill shelters and can't really guess whether that would be more pleasant than being stray.
posted by lgyre at 4:11 PM on May 1, 2007

Cat Adoption Team in Sherwood, OR (A deep suburb of Portland) is a no-kill shelter with a nice free-roam FIV room full of kitty fun and visitor and volunteer socializing. FIV kitties there really do seem to fall quite often on the gentle side. They adopt out the FIV kitties with a one-year "warranty" that covers all of the cat's health expenses for one year and most of me and my partners' favorites have found homes that way. That is to say, if you find the right shelter, it is by no means a lifelong sentence to be caged.
posted by Skwirl at 4:15 PM on May 1, 2007

lgyre: Even if the cat wasn't a risk to the OP's cats (left behind as a stray), he would be a risk to other cats he would meet. And life as a stray cat isn't that great for most cats.
posted by amtho at 4:40 PM on May 1, 2007

Can you put the cat on Petfinder? What about asking the vet if she has any connections?
posted by lemuria at 10:12 PM on May 1, 2007

I don't think you should euthanize the FIV+ cat. He might live comfortably for years. He might die at a ripe old age of something else entirely.

I have one FIV+ cat and three FIV- ones. I've had the FIV+ cat for nine years now. The only symptom he has is tooth decay. I personally would not worry about "mixing" the cats as long as all of them are neutered (less likely to fight) and they don't go outside (so they can't expose other cats or be exposed to other diseases). FIV is not as contagious as some of the other nasty feline diseases, like feline leukemia. It requires biting.

There's a vaccine for FIV now. You could consider testing your FIV- cats and then having them vaccinated.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:24 PM on May 1, 2007

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