FAQ on FIV and FeLV

Cat treat

What are FIV and FeLV?

With such similar acronyms, it’s easy to get the facts about both mixed up. In this article, we want to teach you about the difference. FIV stands for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and can only infect cats. This virus compromises the immune system of the cat carrying the virus. FeLV stands for Feline Leukemia Virus, a retrovirus that attacks the immune system. Again, it can only be transmitted to other cats, not other animals or humans. Read on to learn more about each.



What are the symptoms?

Often, no symptoms are seen. Cats often go years after infection without any clinical signs. They sometimes can be more prone to dental or other oral diseases, but this isn’t the case 100% of the time. Common diseases, wounds, or infections have to be treated more seriously in FIV+ cats since their immune system is compromised. This makes routine vet care and vaccines essential to keeping them healthy. 


The virus does not survive without a host. Almost all FIV infections are transferred via deep bite wounds where the saliva enters the blood during the altercation. The virus is most commonly found in unaltered male cats as they are more inclined to fight over resources and territory. 


Most tests require a small blood sample taken at the vet clinic. Cincinnati Animal CARE does not test for FIV as it is no longer the national standard for animal sheltering due to low transmission and low impact on a cat’s quality of life.

Can FIV+ and FIV- cats live together? 

For many decades, people have believed that positive and negative cats can not live together. We’re happy to say that is not the case! Cats who get along or coexist with each other can absolutely live together! Friendly contact between the cats (mutual grooming, sharing toys/beds, etc.) does not appear to be a way FIV spreads. The virus can not be carried via clothing or shoes if you interact with a FIV+ cat. With the low transmission rate, most altered FIV+ and altered FIV- cats can cohabitate with no issues. As always, slow introductions are recommended when bringing a new cat home. 

Archer, a FIV+ cat adopted from CARE

Archer, a FIV+ cat adopted from CARE recently


What are the symptoms? 

FeLV+ cats can go years without showing signs of infection, but there are things to look out for.

  • Weight loss
  • Urinary, skin, or upper respiratory infections
  • Neurological changes
  • Poor body condition
  • Inflammation of the mouth and gums


If a cat is exposed to FeLV, 3 things are possible.

  1. The cat can fight off the virus, developing an immunity
  2. The cat could be a recessive carrier meaning that while they may be a carrier, they rid the virus of their system within a few years. Recessive carriers almost never transfer the virus to other cats
  3. If the cat is unable to fight off the virus, it will make its way to the bone marrow, compromising their immune system. 2-3 years from the initial time of infection is when they will begin showing symptoms of the disease. 


FeLV is most commonly transmitted in-utero or through repetitive swapping of saliva, like mutual grooming, or a deep bite wound from an infected cat. Transmission can also happen through blood, urine, tears, or feces but this is less common. 


Different veterinary clinics and animals shelters/rescues have different protocols with testing methods due to the differing stages of the way FeLV can present itself. 

Can FeLV+ and FeLV- cats live together?

It depends! We typically recommend only adopting FeLV+ cats into homes with other cats who are also FeLV+. It is possible for a positive cat and negative cat to live together if the FeLV- cat is fully vaccinated against FeLV (though it is important to note that this vaccines is not guaranteed to be 100% effective). We also recommend keeping them in separate rooms so they do not have direct contact with one another.

Scroll to Top