Specific pathogen-free domestic cats with experimentally induced feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infections of short duration (less than or equal to 10 months) exhibited depressed total leukocyte and neutrophil numbers and a marginally decreased lymphocyte proliferative response to pokeweed mitogen (PWM), while cats with infections of more lengthy duration (greater than or equal to 25 months) exhibited normal leukocyte and neutrophil numbers but a dramatic loss of responsiveness to both PWM and concanavalin A (Con A). Cats with short-term infections exhibited a decrease in the percentage of CD4+ lymphocytes in peripheral blood and a corresponding depression of the CD4+:CD8+ ratio. Cats with long-term infections exhibited a similar but more profound perturbation of the CD4+ lymphocyte subset that also included a decrease in the absolute number of CD4+ cells. The decreased responsiveness to Con A and PWM in cats infected long term paralleled the decline in CD4+ cell counts, and the duration of infection was directly correlated with the decrease in the percentage of CD4+ cells. These data provide evidence supporting the hypothesis that FIV is the cause of an immune dysfunction in cats, with distinct similarities to that produced by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in people.