F for Feline, of course. Similar names of three feline diseases (FIV, FIP, Felv) is confusing, so let’s clear that up. Feline Leukemia Virus (Felv) primarily spreads by saliva: sharing bowls, grooming, cat fights, and pregnant moms can infect kittens. Healthy adults are generally more resistant to infection. Some infected cats successfully fight the infection, however most eventually become fatally ill. Cats who test negative can be vaccinated. Cats who tests positive may have several good years but there’s no cure for this common cause of death.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is most commonly spread by cat fights (skin penetration). Sometimes called Feline AIDS (the viruses are absolutely unrelated, and neither virus can spread between cats and humans) infected cats can live up to a decade (and generally die of something else) although they’re highly susceptible to infections and cancers. The test looks for antibodies to the virus. Mom-cats can pass antibodies to offspring, therefore kittens can show a false positive while young. No cure and there’s controversy over the fairly effective vaccine since a vaccinated animal will test falsely positive.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is caused by a common, typically pretty harmless virus which occasionally mutates into something serious (FIP). After years of research we still don’t know why the virus mutates to FIP in certain cats, although it’s more common in cats under stress and in kittens and seniors. Tests are not 100% reliable, there’s no effective treatment, no reliable vaccine. The virus is common, typically shed in feces, and can survive for long periods in the environment. While the normal (not mutated) virus is contagious it is not usually associated with significant disease; in contrast the mutated form of the virus (FIP) isn’t considered contagious but it is the cause of devastating illness, almost always fatal within weeks or months of symptoms (which vary widely).
Advice from one cat lover to another: annual veterinarian visits, keep cats indoors, and treasure our friends who sadly just do not live long enough.