What Is The Final Stage Of Fiv In Cats?

Overview of FIV

FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) is a viral infection that weakens a cat’s immune system over time. It is transmitted primarily through bite wounds from infected cats, as the virus is present in saliva. FIV can also sometimes spread from a mother cat to her kittens, either before birth or from nursing. There are three main stages of FIV infection:

Acute Stage: This occurs in the first few weeks after initial infection. Symptoms may include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, diarrhea, and sometimes secondary infections. The cat’s immune system responds aggressively at first.

Asymptomatic Stage: After the initial illness, FIV enters an extended latent period that can last for years. Cats appear outwardly healthy but the virus slowly weakens the immune system.

Terminal Stage: Eventually the cat’s weakened immune system can no longer protect it from opportunistic infections and diseases. Symptoms may return including chronic infections, cancer, and wasting. This is the final progressive stage of FIV.[1]

The Final Stage

The final stage of FIV is called the Immunodeficiency Stage. This stage occurs several years after initial infection, when the immune system is severely weakened by the virus. Some sources estimate this stage begins around 5-7 years after exposure to FIV, but it can vary from cat to cat.

In the immunodeficiency stage, cats experience a variety of severe symptoms as their immune system can no longer fight off other infections. Common symptoms include:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Skin and upper respiratory infections
  • Dental disease
  • Cancer
  • Blood disorders
  • Eye infections

Neurological disorders may also occur, including difficulty walking, seizures, and behavioral changes. Without treatment, the immunodeficiency stage usually leads to death within 1-2 years due to the body’s inability to fight off infections and diseases (Cornell).


Veterinarians diagnose the final stage of FIV through a combination of blood tests, a thorough physical exam, and evaluation of symptoms. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center [1], the most common screening test is called an ELISA test, which detects antibodies to FIV in the blood. A positive ELISA is usually confirmed with a more specific follow-up test like a Western blot. In advanced stages, bloodwork often shows a low red blood cell count (anemia) and white blood cell count (leukopenia).

The physical exam in late-stage FIV will reveal symptoms like weight loss, poor coat condition, oral ulcers, fever, diarrhea, and secondary infections. The veterinarian will thoroughly evaluate all body systems to identify any issues. They may recommend additional diagnostic tests like x-rays, ultrasound, or biopsy to check for cancer, kidney/liver problems, or other comorbidities.


Treatment options for cats in the final stage of FIV focus on palliative care to manage symptoms and maintain quality of life. Since there is no cure for FIV, the goal is to keep the cat comfortable for as long as possible.

Appetite stimulants like mirtazapine may help cats continue to eat, as weight loss is common in end-stage FIV. Anti-nausea medications can also relieve gastrointestinal issues. Broad-spectrum antibiotics can treat secondary infections, but may become less effective over time. Pain medications will provide relief and should be given regularly as needed. Fluid therapy and nutritional support are also important.

Treating conditions that develop like anemia, cancer and kidney disease can prolong life. But extensive interventions are usually avoided. Euthanasia may be considered when the cat has very poor quality of life despite treatment. Frequent veterinary check-ups and care adjustments help ensure the cat’s needs are met through the end of life. The focus remains on comfort until the cat’s disease is no longer manageable.[1]


The prognosis for cats in the final stage of FIV will depend on several factors. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, the life expectancy for cats in the terminal stage is approximately 2-3 months on average1. However, cats that remain asymptomatic in the latent stage can live normal lifespans. The prognosis tends to decline rapidly once a cat reaches the terminal stage.

There are several factors that can affect the prognosis and survival time for cats with late-stage FIV. The PetMD website states that cats who develop severe infections, cancer, or other illnesses in the final stage will likely survive only weeks to a few months2. Proper treatment and supportive care from a veterinarian may help extend the cat’s life, but the overall outlook is generally poor once immunodeficiency sets in.

In summary, FIV significantly shortens life expectancy once a cat reaches the terminal stage. However, the specific prognosis varies depending on the cat’s other health conditions and response to palliative treatments. Quality of life is a key consideration for owners of cats with late-stage FIV.

End of Life Care

As FIV reaches advanced stages, cat owners face difficult decisions about end of life care. When a cat’s quality of life declines due to the symptoms of FIV, euthanasia may be considered. According to Cloud 9 Vets, criteria like chronic pain, inappetence, and neurological deficits help determine when euthanasia is most humane for an FIV positive cat. However, euthanasia does not have to be the only option. Palliative care and hospice services for cats allow FIV positive cats to live out their remaining time in comfort at home.

The VCA Hospitals state that veterinary palliative medicine focuses on relieving suffering and improving quality of life for cats with terminal or chronic illnesses. An FIV positive cat in declining health may benefit from palliative treatments like pain management medication, appetite stimulants, fluid therapy and other supportive care. Along with medical care, hospice provides emotional support for grieving owners. The goal is to keep FIV cats comfortable at home until they pass away naturally. While euthanasia is sometimes still needed, hospice and palliative care allows owners to make the most loving choice for their cat.

Coping as an Owner

Receiving a diagnosis of late-stage FIV in a beloved cat can be emotionally devastating for owners. As hard as it is, try to focus on providing your cat with as much comfort and quality of life as possible in their final days. Give them extra love and attention, and make sure they still feel like a cherished part of the family.

As the end nears, prepare yourself emotionally for the loss of your pet. Consider involving your family and making arrangements for your cat’s final days. Talk to your vet about at-home euthanasia when the time comes so your cat can pass peacefully in familiar surroundings.

After your cat passes, allow yourself to fully grieve. Memorialize them with a special box or album of memories. Hold a small remembrance ceremony with family or make a donation to an animal shelter in their name. While nothing can replace your beloved cat, in time, many owners find opening their hearts and home to another cat in need can help heal the grief.


There are several ways cat owners can help prevent the spread of FIV:

Testing and Screening: The only way to know if a cat has FIV is through a blood test performed by a veterinarian. Kittens can be tested as early as 8 weeks of age. Adult cats should be tested before entering a new home or introduced to other cats. Annual testing is recommended for cats at higher risk like outdoor cats or cats in multi-cat households.

Lifestyle factors: Keeping cats indoors reduces the risk of exposure through fighting and bites. Decreasing stress and overcrowding also lowers aggressive behavior that can spread FIV. Using separate food bowls and litter boxes for each cat can prevent close contact and potential exposure through bodily fluids.

Vaccination: There is a vaccine available for FIV but it does not provide complete immunity. The American Association of Feline Practitioners does not recommend routine vaccination due to concerns over effectiveness. It may be considered in high risk cats like free-roaming outdoor cats. Consult with your veterinarian to discuss the potential benefits and risks (Cornell Feline Health Center).

The Takeaway

In recap, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a progressive disease that affects a cat’s immune system over time. The final stage of FIV is when the cat’s immune system is severely compromised and unable to fight off infections and diseases.

Some key points for cat owners to remember are:

  • Get your cat tested and diagnosed early if FIV is suspected.
  • Keep your FIV positive cat indoors and away from other cats to prevent fighting and spreading the virus.
  • Feed a high-quality diet and minimize stress to support your cat’s immune system.
  • See your vet for regular checkups to monitor your cat’s health and treat any secondary infections right away.
  • Make your cat as comfortable as possible when end-of-life care is needed.

While a positive FIV diagnosis can be difficult news for a cat owner, remember that cats can live for many happy years with the right care and management of this condition. Focus on providing the best quality of life for your cat throughout every stage.

Further Reading

For more credible information on the final stage of FIV in cats, check out the following resources:



  • “The Healthy Cat and Dog Cookbook” by Kate Kirkpatrick – Includes nutrition advice for cats with FIV.
  • “The Guide to Owning an FIV Cat” by Taca Soot – Provides guidance on caring for FIV positive cats.


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