FIV (FELINE IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS) IN CATS
WHAT IS FIV?
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a cat-specific virus that is thought to affect approximately 2-5% of the cat population in the UK.
It is a slow acting virus and many infected cats enjoy a normal lifespan with no apparent health concerns as a result of the virus. FIV is species specific and cannot be passed to humans. If you’re willing to make a few adjustments to your home (both to protect them from illness and other cats from the disease), these cats make wonderful and rewarding companions.
GUIDANCE FOR OWNERS OF FIV+ CATS
HOW CAN I ADJUST MY HOME TO BE BEST SUITED FOR AN FIV+ CAT?
Due to the FIV infection, it’s considered important not to expose her to other cats, both for their protection (i.e. to prevent her passing on the virus), and her own (she may have a weakened immune system and so could be more susceptible to other diseases transmitted by cats in the neighbourhood). However, being confined indoors would deny her the many benefits that access to the outdoors provides, and therefore potentially compromising her welfare. Instead, the best solution is to not only provide her with opportunities for positive stimulation indoors, but also with an enclosed, enriching, outdoor space.
WHY DOES AN FIV+ CAT NEED A GARDEN/OUTDOOR AREA?
Behaviourally, the domestic cat is very much like her wild cat relatives – what this means is that (depending on her age and temperament) she may be highly motivated to spend a large proportion of her day exploring and seeking out interesting sights, smells, sounds, textures and tastes within her environment. She may get a lot of pleasure from these activities, which will help to keep her both mentally stimulated and physically fit and active.
She may also enjoy having time away from the busy and sometimes unpredictable environment inside of the home, instead preferring to quietly relax in a sunny spot outdoors, perhaps getting a good view of her territory via a high up ledge, or even curling up and sleeping under a bush, or in a specially provided ‘cat den’.
Giving her access to a suitably enriched and stimulating cat proof garden is the best way to allow her to perform these behaviours; all of which are very important for her physical and emotional wellbeing. Ideally, she should have constant access to this space, via a cat flap for example.
The FIV virus will not influence a cat’s temperament or drive to perform these behaviours, and so her needs for positive sensory stimulation and access to quiet areas away from the home are the same as for any non FIV+ cat. Whilst technically it could be possible to provide her with the above opportunities within an indoor only environment, in reality, this is much harder to do, and in most cases not practical due to the space, cost, time and effort required.
WHAT IS A CAT PROOF GARDEN?
Cats can easily climb a standard 6ft fence, therefore a properly enclosed garden requires some sort of barrier or structure that makes it physically impossible for cats to climb up, over, and out of the garden. This barrier is typically an overhang of netting secured to the top of an existing framework, such as a fence located around the perimeter of the garden (see illustration below).
Alternatives to netting include long poles (again attached along the top of a fence) that roll when stepped on, thus making it very difficult for the cat to jump on to and over.
Both these types of barriers should also prevent other cats from being able to enter the garden.
HOW BIG SHOULD THE CAT PROOF GARDEN BE? WHAT DOES IT NEED TO HAVE INSIDE IT?
The cat proof garden should be large enough to provide her with plenty of things to explore, space to exercise, and the opportunity to go through parts of her predatory sequence (i.e. stalking, chasing and pouncing).
Unless they are very large, and filled with lots of enriching items (such as plants and dense shrubs, tables and chairs and raised ledges), cat runs or outdoor cages are generally not considered sufficient to provide her with a suitable outdoor space.
A suitable cat-friendly garden should include the following features (please see our guidance on how to make your garden or outside space cat-friendly and enriching for your cat for more details on what/how to provide these):-
- Places to hide to help her feel safe
- Places to get up high so she has a good vantage or look-out point
- Places where she can toilet in a suitable type of ‘substrate’
- Comfortable sunny spots where she can sleep and relax
- Plants and other vegetation she can sniff and explore in
- Shelter from the wind, rain and cold
- A source of fresh drinking water (preferably rain water)
- Something good to scratch on.
Due to the enclosed nature of the garden, your cat won’t be able to roam freely and explore as they may have been used to (particularly if they was previously a stray or came from a rural area). It’s therefore important to ensure your garden is sufficiently stimulating to prevent them from becoming bored or frustrated. The more enrichment (e.g. vegetation, hiding places) and structural complexity (e.g. bits of furniture such as ‘cat houses’, chairs, tables, ledges and ladders, all at different heights) you can add to the garden, the more appealing and positively stimulating this will be for your cat.
A bare open garden with nothing to explore and nowhere to hide is likely to seem both daunting and unappealing to your cat.
PROVIDING POSITIVE STIMULATION INDOORS
A cat friendly, positively stimulating environment indoors is also very important, particularly if your cat has limited space to roam outside due to the enclosed, cat proofed garden. A cat friendly indoor environment should aim to:-
- Contain all the key resources your cat needs (and in suitable locations)
- Be a relatively calm and predictable place for your cat to be
- Contain a quiet place where she can go and spend time undisturbed
- Contain lots of things to keep her entertained and provide her with pleasurable experiences.
For information and advice on how to achieve this, please see our advice on how to make your home cat-friendly and enriching for your cat.