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Let’s smash some myths about FIV

Cats with “feline AIDS” can live long, healthy, happy lives.

Dave came to RAPS as a feral cat and tested positive for FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus, commonly called “feline AIDS”). In so many jurisdictions, cats with FIV are routinely euthanized. At the RAPS Cat Sanctuary, we have a special facility where we welcome FIV-positive cats and provide them with all the loving care they need and want.


In Dave’s case, he doesn’t want a lot of loving care. He’s still pretty feral and stand-offish. But Valerie Wilson, assistant manager of the Sanctuary, is hopeful that he will warm up to humans.

“He may not ever be cuddly,” says Valerie, “but I think he will become social-ish.”

It’s Dave’s feral personality – not his FIV status – that makes him unadoptable. And this is something Valerie wants people to understand.

“It doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” she says. “Cats with FIV may have more medical issues in the long run, but FIV cats can live long and healthy lives with proper nutrition and veterinary care.”

The feline immunodeficiency virus kills or damages cells in a cat’s immune system, often targeting white blood cells. Over time, this leads to a weakening of the immune system and greater vulnerability to secondary infections.

As a result, FIV-positive cats will probably require more vet care than the average cat over their lifetime. In a world where there are plenty of “healthy” cats looking for homes, this makes an FIV-positive cat less likely to find a family home. By extension, this leads to euthanasia (even in so-called “no-kill” animal agencies) because unadoptable pets are routinely put down by organizations that do not have the resources to care for them for the rest of their lives.


This is a key differentiator of RAPS. Other so-called “no kill” organizations say that they do not euthanize “healthy cats.” Their definition of “healthy” is often very loose. More to the point, RAPS does not euthanize unhealthy cats. The RAPS Cat Sanctuary exists to provide a forever home for cats that, for behavioural, health of other reasons, will be with us for life!

We have special colonies of FIV cats, we have cats with leukemia and with a vast range of special needs. They receive all the medical attention they need and all the love they can handle.

The RAPS policy on euthanasia is, we believe, a true “no kill” ethos. Mirroring the Canadian government’s approach to medical assistance in dying for humans, we euthanize animals only when they have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability, are in an advanced state of irreversible decline and are enduring or likely to endure intolerable suffering.

Another myth is that FIV-positive cats must be the only cat in a household. The reality is that FIV is transmitted only through deep bite wounds. If two or more cats live in harmony, there is no fear of transmission.

“They can live just fine in a home with another cat,” Valerie says. “They can share water dishes and litter boxes, they can groom each other and they’re not going to pass it. There is no reason why the cat can’t live with another cat.”


The one condition is that they must be indoor cats because if they are outdoors and get in a fight, that could infect other animals. Of course, RAPS recommends that all cats be kept indoors or, if allowed outside, are protected in a “catio” or accompanied on a leash.

The RAPS Cat Sanctuary is envisioned as the forever home for cats like Dave. But this is not always the case. Cats come to the Sanctuary because, for example, they are feral or stray and not socialized enough to be adopted.

But the Sanctuary has dedicated “Kitty Comforters” whose sole job it is to deliver all the love and affection the residents want – especially those who aren’t used to human contact but who, over time, decide we are not such a bad species after all. Sometimes – not too often, but occasionally – Sanctuary cats do get adopted and go to a forever family home.

Right now, there are three cats with FIV who have shown themselves to be socialized enough now that they would make awesome house cats. Angus, Dillon, and Gizmo are available for adoption.

If there is a place in your home for a cat with FIV, consider a meet-and-greet with one of these special creatures! And, of course, the more FIV-positive kitties we can home with families, the more we can save and welcome from places where they could face euthanasia!



Thank you to Marla Jenkins for the use of her photography.