Best Friends Blog

PETCO, please change your policy on FIV+ cats

PETCO doesn’t allow rescue groups to bring FIV+ cats into their stores for adoption events. Unfortunately, this old-school thinking perpetuates a myth that has doomed countless cats to death, usually at the urging of uninformed or overly cautious veterinarians.

Best Friends Animal Society has a long and substantive history of managing FIV cats, and while we respect the disease and reasonable public concern, our experience points in the opposite direction from PETCO’s policy.

In January 1987, I drove Queenie, a red Persian cat in terminal renal failure, from Best Friends to the University of California, Davis, for what turned out to be the world’s first viable kidney transplant on a cat .

Queenie was quite the celebrity, so I tagged along as her entourage of one with sort of an all-access pass to the goings-on at the veterinary teaching hospital. As it happened, one of the hot topics among the staff was the feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV, which had recently been identified by Dr. Niels Pedersen and Dr. Janet Yamamoto, UC Davis researchers.

For those too young to remember, in 1987 the AIDS scare was sweeping the country. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) had just been adopted as the name of the retrovirus that was first proposed as the cause of AIDS, and panic regarding AIDS was afoot across the country with its own mythology and a barrage of misinformation as to cause and route of infection. FIV quickly developed its own mythology, misinformation and panic.

At the invitation of Dr. Yamamoto, we submitted blood samples from the cats in one of our catteries for FIV analysis by the folks at Davis. There was no commercial SNAP test available at the time and Davis was the only place with the resources to conduct such an analysis. Several of the tests came back positive. We were gravely advised by Dr. Yamamoto to keep this group of cats isolated — that it was too late to remove the cats who hadn’t tested positive because they were likely already infected and that we certainly shouldn’t allow the public to adopt any of these cats.

Fast-forward a few years to the first commercially available in-office FIV test kits. When these little time savers came on the market, we dutifully tested all of our sanctuary cats. The little colony with the few FIV-positive cats was still doing fine. A couple of cats had died of old age (not the ones with FIV) but lo and behold, when we re-tested the colony, we found that there had been no transmission of the disease to any of the other colony cats. So much for the scourge of FIV.

As it turns out, rather than being transmitted by casual contact such as sharing food and water bowls and even mutual grooming, FIV is only transmitted in utero from an infected mother to her kittens or by a serum-to-blood route, as in a deep bite wound. And not only was FIV not an easily transmitted disease, for the most part cats who had FIV lived long and uneventful lives when given normal attentive care that included early intervention for common maladies such as the sniffles.

For me, FIV quickly became the virus I wish had never been discovered.

Now that there is an FIV vaccine courtesy of the same Dr. Yamamoto, matters are complicated further by the fact that the FIV test is really an antibody test. That is to say, the test does not disclose whether or not the virus is present, but whether or not a cat’s immune system has mounted a response to the virus either as the result of a bite from an infected cat, or as the result of having been vaccinated against the disease. That means that cats who have been vaccinated against FIV can easily wind up in a situation where they are killed, not because they have the disease, but because someone took the trouble to try to protect them from it, but didn’t take enough care to keep that cat from landing in a shelter or joining up with a managed community cat colony.

The bottom line here is that a positive FIV test result is a very poor predictor of the quality of life or life expectancy for a cat, and many vets recommend against testing for it.

Silva and I have three FIV-positive cats in our cattery of 11 healthy felines. Smokey and Lance, pictured here, are two of the three. It just isn’t that big a deal. The basic guideline is “no fighting, no biting.”

Too many cats are dying for no good reason. Excluding FIV+ cats from adoption opportunities is simply adding insult to injury. Please ask PETCO to change their policy on this and to bring it in line with reality. Together we can bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets!

Contact: Karen Meader, PETCO National Adoption Program Manager

Phone: 858-437-7352 office, Fax: 858-736-8155, Email:

For more information on FIV, you might want to read FIV: Catching a Bad Case of Rumors.

Francis Battista

Co-Founder, Best Friends Animal Society


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  • Lilythedog

    I have an FIV+ cat named Riley, who is the healthiest, happiest cat in the world. She lives with my FIV negative senior cat & 2 dogs. I couldn’t imagine life without her. She is a silly, loving wonderful companion. I have an extra sensitivity towards FIV+ kitties because of my experience with her… Please encourage PETCO to change this policy!

  • Pat102750

    My last rescue, pumpkin tested positive for FIV and with proper care and diet he’s healthy and can live a long life. He’s almost 2 and he has four step sisters and they’re all negitive and they all get along. How about we all just stop shopping at Petco until they change their policy

  • Ajapierce

    The thing that disturbs me the most is Petco is has-a**ed backwards. Feline herpes, which is not life threating, but extends the lenght that a cat will have a cold or other respitory problem. And about 85% of cats have feline herpes, but when you look at the numbers for FIV, the percentages are low. Both FIV and Feline Herpes are life long bugs. But usually Feline herpes causes more problems then FIV. Plus Feline herpes has a real bloodwork test, not just checking for Antibodies.

  • Camelia

    I volunteer with a rescue group and we have FIV cats for adoption. I didn’t know that about Petco, and I doubt our local Petco store knows of this policy. Whenever we had an adoption event at Petco, we would bring FIV cats (and some did get adopted). The store employees couldn’t care less about our cats, and I am sure half of them have never heard of FIV. How would they know unless they check medical records? But we no longer go to Petco for adoption events, because of poor traffic. We go to Petsmart now, where there is much better traffic and we have more adoptions. I never liked Petco, and like them even less now. I certainly won’t shop there.

  • Cambridge Rat Mom

    The cat I took off the streets is FIV+, probably from his days on the streets, and he lives with another cat and they’re just fine together. I’m not worried. They don’t fight, they don’t bite.

  • Fran

    I help with adoption events for two different groups at two different Petcos here and both groups have had FIV+ cats at events.

    Of course now i don’t want to say where and which stores in case the managers aren’t aware of the company policies and we just sort of skated by.

    I have an FIV+ cat too. I would adopt another in a second but for budgeting for vet care emergencies.

  • Kathleenhickman

    FIV is spread primarily through bite wounds. If they are competent enough to prevent cats from biting each other at adoption events, then there is absolutely no reason not to allow FIV positive cats at the events. The virus is not spread through the air or through casual contact between cats. Like human HIV, there must be DIRECT body fluid contact. It’s as wrong to ostracize and segregate FIV cats as it is HIV positive humans.

  • Bwallace823

    We found two tiny, two-week old kittens in our front yard three years ago. One died shortly after being taken inside. The other lived and thrived and is now actually 19 pounds, or as our Vet says, a fifteen pound cat who weighs 19 pounds. We had him tested for FIV right from the beginning and he was positive. But he lives with our two dogs and three other rescue cats who do not have FIV, and everyone is happy. FIV is not an automatic death sentence, and FIV cats do not have to be segregated. Hopefully more people will recognize that these cats can make fine pets.

  • Is this an official written policy from Petco Headquarters or is this the request of a store manager or district manager?

    • Francis

      This is from Petco Corporate Headquarters, not Petco Foundation or a district or store manager.

  • Rebecca Arterburn

    I had a cat adopt me, came through my doggie door into the bedroom among my other dogs/cats and went to sleep, he was a big panther type cat, well fed and we believed lived 3 doors down from us, my husband put him out the front door and told him to go home, one hour later he was in bed between us, he had went around the house & jumped the privacy fence and came back in….we put up signs in the neighborhood and ads in the paper, after 3 wks and no claims, we took him to our Vet where he was diagnosed w/ FIV, my Vet immediately told me that there was ABSOLUTELY no way the cat could give the FIV to people/dogs or any other animal, other than another cat, and ONLY by sex, or a deep deep deep bite w/ extreme blood exchange…..our cat “Bishop” who we named after our Vet has lived a healthy life for 3 years, I’m so grateful that I have a Vet who is current on information….not even a scratch to another cat can cause the FIV to be transferred, science has performed thousands replications and they can NOT find the virus in the nails. Unfortunately, after about 6 wks, Bishop started fighting our other 2 cats, apparently he wasn’t docile as we had previous believed but actually on deaths door when he came through our doggie door and got in bed w/ us….no matter, we keep him separated from the other 2 cats and he loves our 3 dogs and his life is wonderful. We are so grateful to have him and we know in our hearts that he will live a long healthy life.

    • Rebecca Arterburn

      BTW, we don’t keep him separated because he has FIV, but because he is a fighter w/ cats only and xfer the FIV through a deep bite….just wanted to make that clear. If he wasn’t a fighter he would be w/ our other cats. Actually, he was for the first 6 wks he was w/ us until he became strong and then his personality of fighting came out. I didn’t want any misunderstandings from my original post.

      • Try Feliway. I took in an abandoned male cat last year and had problems with my other male. Took everyone’s suggestion and got the Feliway spray. Applied that all around …. calmed the situation down. Still a few dust-ups once in a while, but the Feliway was a huge help.

  • M Durrance

    I guess the no fighting no biting is the concern of most. I was going to adopt a deaf white feral cat but he was tested & found positive & was euthanized which really upset me but I was told this was routinely done. I was uninformed so accepted the outcome but he had bitten one of my other cats. Now, should I have that cat tested? or forget about it. It’s been a long time now & she is gentle & not aggressive & I have seen no change in her.

  • Lovefelines2003

    I did not know this – great posting – I just sent an email to the link you suggested. Thank you again Francis for educating us – have been a long time shopper at Petco and let them know this will stop if they continue this inhumane policy of theirs!

  • Daniela

    When I decided to adopt my FIV+ cat Leo I did a lot of research to ensure I wasn’t going to be harming any of the cats that I already had. I heard about a rescue in England that is only for FIV+ cats but through circumstances had one lone FIV- cat that was placed with the FIV+ ones. This cat has been there for 4 years and been in contact with 30 – 40 FIV+ cats and yet is still FIV-. That pretty much convinced me that since Leo is not cat aggressive he could come home with me – and he has been doing great for the past 2 years.


  • Allan Yorkowitz

    I am very disappointed in Petco’s policy. I do my usual shopping there.

  • John222

    Contrary to most of the other people posting here, we brought a FIV+ stray into our household with our other cats, and it infected one of our other cats, which subsequently developed lymphoma and died. We did not know at the time about FIV.

  • Catnip Trails

    We stopped doing the FIV test & shots YEARS ago for this very reason. When our vet finally admitted that he could not conclusively tell us if the positive test result was from having the disease – or the shot – we stopped both! Too many cats are put to death needlessly when they don’t have FIV at all. BRAVO for writing this article and bringing this to the public’s attention!!!

  • I am FIV+ and the in UK the RSPCA put these cats to sleep straight away when they rescue them and make no attempt to rehome them. I was lucky that my mum found me as a stray and after the vet confirmed the diagnosis decided to keep me. That was 2 1/2 years ago and I am now around 5 years old and still a happy and healthy cat.

  • Barb – Maine

    my husband and i have been doing rescue for over 20 years. over time we came to house only cats that were deemed ‘unadoptable’ by many standards. we have elderly cats that are healthy but their owners ‘don’t want anymore’ or cats with diabetes, in early stage kidney failure, handicapped or otherwise not appealing to most people. we give them the care they need and a home to live out their lives. we have had anywhere from 10 to 40 cats at a time and over the years have had 3 FIV+ cats who lived or are living out their lives among them and have NEVER had any of the others contract FIV from them. Harry lived to be 14 or so and Pez and Squeekie are about 7 and 11 respectively. other people i do rescue with have also always housed their FIV+ cats together with the rest of their pets and again, have NEVER had one case of it being spread to any other cat. it is simply horrible that these cats, if tested at a shelter, will automatically be put down. they can live normal healthy lives. the only thing that we have noticed is that, as you mentioned, if the cat does get sick or have to have a tooth pulled or something, it takes them a bit longer to recover. we usually use antibiotics for twice as long, and our vet is extra cautious with the anesthesia. other than that they are happy, healthy and loving friends.

  • Lin

    Petco, how can your company be so misinformed? These cats ARE not dangerous and they should be allowed to be adopted in your stores. Please change your policy about this as all you are doing is causing hundreds of cats to be put to death for no good reason at all. Thank you. Wiskerz, you are not helping matters any either, by saying that FIV is easily transmissible, when it is NOT!

  • Wiskerz

    In some regards, I agree with PETCO. Being in the veterinary field and also running a non-profit cat rescue, it comes down to this. How many people who are adopting these FIV+ cats are responsible enough to keep the cat in or away from other cats? Better yet how can they keep them from fighting or biting? And when it comes to getting care for them when they are sick, they have to be approached with more aggressive therapies to be effective. Are these owners prepared for that? FIV is transmissible, bottom line.

    • @Wiskerz “in the veterinary field” do you by any chance sell euthanasia supplies? Your persistence in hanging onto old school thought says there is something in it for you.
      If new owners are informed up front, of course they are “prepared” and they can make their own decisions. Having had two cats with chronic conditions, I feel that they are more loving and companionable cats, as if they know what I have given them. I have no regrets. I am a single cat at a time owner of indoor cats. Where is the risk?

    • Francis

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Wiskerz. Your point is well taken, and this is where the rescue organization doing the adoption comes into play. As I said in my blog, Best Friends respects the disease and reasonable public concern. Rescue organizations that knowingly adopt FIV+ cats have the added responsibility when selecting an adoptor of ensuring that the new family has all the information that they need to care for that cat and are able and willing to provide appropriate care and precautions when adopting an FIV+ cat or any special needs animal for that matter. Many adopters are looking for a companion for a cat that already has FIV and a good rescue should know the demeanor of the cats they are offering to the public including their propensity for fighting and biting!

      However, your observations are not central to this question. Petco is not saying that FIV+ cats should not be re-homed, they are purporting that FIV+ cats, confined to show crates in their stores, constitute a threat to other healthy cats with whom they would have only casual or indirect contact. By stating such a policy, they are mischaracterizing FIV, its routes of contagion and perpetuating a myth that has cost untold numbers of cats their lives. Thanks for join in the conversation.

  • Megatron1220

    Interesting. I adopted my first cat 10 years ago from a private rescue that placed cats in Petco. He is FIV+ (and was then, too). Maybe they didn’t have a policy then.

    Thanks for writing this; any attention to the issue of FIV is most welcome. I didn’t know what it was when I adopted my Jackson, but I read about it, and with that knowledge, have not hesitated to have FIV- cats with him. I am fostering FIV+ cats for my local shelter and am trying to change their policies on adopting out FIV+ cats.
    Thanks again for all you do!

  • Anni

    I wouldn’t say I had hysteria, but I did have some concerns when I discovered that my big orange rescue guy was FIV+. After doing some research on my own, and getting some great information from Best Friends, I am happy to say that my concern level has dropped and I am now an advocate for the FIV+ cat and their struggles. Oliecat is a happy, healthy, chatty boy and I am so glad to have him in my life.

  • Kelly – Illinois

    I am so very disturbed by the recent article I read stating PETCO does not allow FIV positive cats to be adopted. I find this completely unacceptable and actually very disappointing that a animal organization such as PETCO would add to the already unfair, uneducated information people receive about FIV. These cats make perfectly good pets.
    FIV is not an easily transmitted disease, in most cases cats who had FIV live long and uneventful lives when basically the same care you would any unaffected cat.
    We have come way too far to continue this line of thinking! Imagine if our society still felt this way with humans who become infected with HIV!!
    Please put the “correct” information & research out about Feline FIV and lets start 2011 out with compassion and understanding for these previously discarded sweet lives!

  • Cfagerstrom

    YES! Thank you, Francis! I too have three FIV+ cats living in harmony with the rest of my cats and I worry not one bit. They are aged 16, 8 and 2 and they are just as healthy as all my other cats.

    I also remember the hysteria surrounding the discovery of the virus. I worked in a prenatal clinic and actually had a patient consider aborting a pregnancy because her HEALTHY OLD CAT was diagnosed with this virus by chance. I remember speaking with Dr. Yamamoto and she was reluctant to completely reassure my patient.

    It’s been 25 years, folks. Time for the hysteria to stop and common sense and experience to prevail!