That's because Alex has FIV.
FIV is an infectious disease that is typically transmitted through deep and penetrating cat bites. These are the sorts of injuries stray cats like Alex might endure during a turf war. One cat wants the other cats to stay away, and that cat uses teeth like weapons. If those teeth punch through the skin and deep into subcutaneous tissues, bits of virus enter the tissues too. And those virus cells can spread throughout the body.
Alex was certainly in some kind of fight. In fact, when he came to the shelter, he was missing a great deal of fur and skin above his right eye. Those injuries could have been caused by something like a fan belt, but they could have been caused by another cat.
In the shelter, Alex is an amazing flirt. He rolls and chirps and purrs and head butts. He's really trying to win people over. But when people see that "FIV" target by his name, they worry.
And should they?
The answer is: Maybe.
I spent a lot of time this week watching a very absorbing presentation on co-habitating cats and FIV status. The researcher points out, pretty definitively, that cats that live together and share things with one another are really not at risk for passing FIV to one another. In fact, she points out that the viral load that's required to pass the infection through something like saliva is incredibly high. Even momma cats struggle to pass the disease to their kittens. It just doesn't happen.
But cats that bite can pass FIV along. And let's face it. Some cats bite.
We don't know what happened to Alex and his face. If he was involved in an issue with another cat and he was fighting for his life, maybe he'll be the sort of cat that overreacts to any sort of aggression. And if he does, he might use his teeth to prove his point. And those teeth could come with FIV. With him, it's unclear.
But not all FIV cats are like this. Consider this guy, Fritz.
He also has FIV. But he came into the shelter with a great history of living with other cats. And he was housed, for a time, in a kennel with another cat. He never even considered fighting. He never did anything to provoke the other cat, either.
So what's a writer to do? Or an adopter?
All adopters should know that the cats they are considering come with FIV. And honestly, that shouldn't deter the adoption. The researcher I mentioned a second ago cites a study in which there were no differences in life span among cats with FIV and without. It doesn't shorten a life.
But, people hoping to choose a cat with FIV need to consider issues of personality very, very carefully. Do the resident cats bite? Do they like to fight, even in play? Does the newcomer have a history of fighting in the home? Or is the history unknown?
If adopters do take those FIV cats home, they should also be really, really careful about introductions. That means closed doors, screens, baby gates, and more. There should be no opportunity for teeth to hit body parts until the owner is SURE the pets will get along. That's a process that could take months to complete.
Meanwhile, sweet Alex waits for his home. He's been waiting since February. I'm just hoping he makes the right match soon--with a family committed to his health and well being.
Interested in the research I mentioned? You'll find it here (scroll on down to the bottom). And are you living with a cat with FIV? I'd love to hear your story in the comments.