This page: Many rescues and vets say an FIV cat should be kept as an indoor-only cat, is that a valid view? We look at the issues you need to consider.

FIV - Indoor-only cats?

Should FIV cats be kept as 'indoor-only' and 'only' cats?

Many rescues insist on FIV cats being homed as 'indoor-only', and 'only' cats; indeed, this is often the 'official' advice given by organisations. Although we recognise the thinking behind this, we think it is misguided, and would like to put forward a different view.

How you view the importance of casual transmission of FIV will depend on your view of the real dangers of the virus.

For those who still believe the virus to be like the 'plague' and think it will make a cat suffer and die - then they would obviously take no risks of transmission. But those who understand that the virus is really quite innocuous will recognise the risk balance and see that quality of life is of far greater importance.

It is a sad fact that the policies developed by some rescue organisations can actually increase the problems for homing FIV cats.

One of the perceived 'problems' with FIV cats, from a rescue point of view, is that they are thought to be difficult to find homes for, which means they 'clog up' the available homing spaces. The main reason for this is the indoor-only and only-cat policy. This policy in itself creates, or at least exacerbates, the problem, as those homes are much less common than homes with other cats and indoor-outdoor spaces.

Add to this the fact that, due to all the bad press FIV has had, it will be those who are confident with cats who are most likely to offer homes for FIV cats. These people are also most likely to have cats in their household already, which, due to the policy put forward, negates them from being allowed to give an FIV cat a home. So the policy cuts out the very people most likely to offer homes for FIV cats - a self-defeating policy that only adds to the problem.

How valid is the policy of only homing FIV cats to indoor-only, only-cat households?

There are two main reasons put forward for the policy: that outside, an FIV cat would pick up infections from neighbouring cats; and that the FIV cat could spread the virus to the neighbouring cats.

The reason given for keeping FIV cats as only cats, and not allowing them to mix with uninfected cats within a household is, again, the fear of spreading the virus to the other cats.

We would suggest that neither of these reasons is valid. Let's look at them in turn:

Indoor-only policy

Physical health: We have observed and recorded the on-going health of the FIV cats in our sanctuary, all of whom have permanent access to the the outside - our FIV cats have had very few of the typically expected health problems; whereas we hear of others, who have mainly indoor cats, who seem to suffer from more frequent and repeated infections. We have often speculated as to how much the outdoor environment experienced by our FIV cats may be influential.

Logic would suggest that any air-borne infections would be so well dissipated in the outdoor atmosphere with its ever changing air flow, that it would be unlikely for infections exhaled by one cat, to be inhaled by another cat, so transmission of air-borne infections is minimised for that reason alone.

However, in an indoor environment, anything exhaled would remain in the atmosphere to be inhaled by another cat, or re-inhaled by the same cat, which would clearly exacerbate these infections.

Add to this all the other retained chemicals that could be in the indoor atmosphere derived from all manner of cleaners, air-fresheners, and many other sources, and you will see that the indoor atmosphere could well be an unhealthy cocktail to be continually inhaled.

Psychological health: Most FIV cats that have picked up the virus as strays will need to make a large adaptation to live an indoor-only life, and many will find it very distressing, having been used to the freedom. It is true that some will be only too pleased to have a home, and be more than happy never to go out again, but we believe they are the minority. One of the biggest aggravators of poor health in any animal is stress, and the stress of keeping a cat indoors against its nature could have health implications.

For these reasons we would suggest that, from a health point of view, access to the outdoors, for at least part of the time, would be best for FIV cats. If outdoor access is not possible, then the importance of good ventilation should be emphasised.

Spreading the virus - The only way an FIV is going to pass on the virus to other cats it might meet outside is through a fight in which it gives the other cat a serious bite.

Assuming that the FIV cat is now neutered and properly fed, it will not look for a huge territory, and is not likely to aggressively defend it. The most likely reason for it to get into a fight would be if it encountered an aggressive neighbouring cat, or stray.  As an aggressive cat is most likely to be un-neutered, it is quite likely that it is already FIV+, and one FIV cat fighting another is not going to transmit the virus.

The much more likely occurrence would be for an uninfected cat to be attacked by an aggressive stray and therefore pick up FIV from it. So, in terms of transmission, it is probably more important to keep any uninfected cats inside.

If it is known that there is an aggressive domestic cat or stray in the area, it would be best to see if it could be dealt with (trap if it is a stray, or negotiate with the neighbour for an owned cat, so that arrangements can be made to neuter the cat).

Picking up an infection - it has already been illustrated that it is probably healthier to be outdoors than indoors, and the likelihood of meeting and being infected by another cat, is slim - air borne infections would need close contact, and even then, out in the fresh air, transmission would be far less likely than indoors.  And don't forget that, in general, an FIV cat's immune system is still very strong and will deal with infections just as well as another cat's.

Only-cat policy

It is sometimes suggested that an FIV cat, sharing a home with one or more uninfected cats, could give the FIV to the others - although in theory this is possible, in practice it is very unlikely.  As long as a cat is not aggressive and is introduced to others carefully, it will rarely have a serious fight - rough play, possibly, but that does not transmit the virus.

Some will suggest that in the sharing of food bowls there is a danger of spreading FIV.  This is not true. There are two main reasons why it is not true: firstly, the virus, although present in the saliva, does not survive long outside the body; and secondly, taking the virus in via the mouth is not dangerous - the mucous membrane is a very good barrier, preventing the virus from getting into the blood stream. So sharing of food bowls is not a realistic danger.

You will have seen earlier that the policy of many of the well-known charities for not mixing FIV and uninfected cats is based on a single study, which we feel is very unsafe.

There are very many examples of FIV cats living happily in households with other, non-FIV, cats for years and never passing on the virus. We know of no valid evidence of the transmission of FIV within normal domestic households. So we see no valid reason to prevent the normal mixing of FIV and uninfected cats in a good domestic home.

So to summarise:   There are two unfounded fears

The unfounded fear of picking up infections - As you will have read in most of this website, FIV does not have the immune destroying powers that many think it does - in short, an FIV cat will maintain a strong immune system for most of its life. So fears of an FIV cat picking up lots of infections etc are, unfounded.  (See other sections for full explanations: Myths or Facts; What does FIV really do to the immune system?FIV in perspective; Health history of the sanctuary cats)

The unfounded fear of transmitting the virus - This is also covered in depth in other sections of this website (Myths or Facts?  a 10 year study...; and Examples of mixed households). Suffice it to say, there is a large amount of evidence to show FIV cats living together with uninfected cats for many years do not transmit the virus. As long as there are sensible introductions for the newcomer, domestic cats in good homes will have no need to fight in the way that would transmit the virus.  Also, once you understand the true nature of the virus, and how it has very little effect on the cat, you would not need to worry anyway.  We recognise that this last point is not easy to take on board until you have seen for yourself, but it is true none the less.

What if an indoor-only home is on offer?

There are many situations where indoor-only homes are offered, usually because the owner lives in a flat, or in some other way does not have reasonable access for a cat to go outside. This can be ideal for many cats who seem perfectly happy to remain inside. If considering a cat for an indoor home, whether FIV or not, we would suggest that the cat's temperament should be carefully assessed, in order to avoid taking a cat who is going to be stressed if confined indoors. Stress to any cat, but particularly an FIV cat, can be detrimental to their health and immune system.


You can see from the points made that we consider it better, both psychologically and physically, if an FIV cat can have access to the outdoors, but recognise it is not always possible. Our main point is that to insist on an indoor-only environment is unreasonable, and can actually cause problems rather than prevent them.

So for those who insist that an FIV cat should be kept as an only cat and an indoor-only cat, we hope these notes will make you think again.  And to those who suggest that an otherwise healthy FIV cat that cannot be kept as an indoor-only cat should be put down (which, sadly, some 'respected' organisations still recommend), we hope you now realise how terribly wrong that advice is.

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