In my last post, I rained down some pretty serious anxiety on canine parents. So this week I thought I’d share the love with cat parents.
Seriously though, you need to know the facts about this dangerous illness to have any hope of preventing it.
Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a viral cat disease. It’s caused by certain strains of feline coronavirus. It’s common for cats to get coronavirus. But uncommon for coronavirus to turn into FIP. FIP affects 5-10% of cats and kills 95% of those infected.
How does coronavirus turn into FIP?
Most strains of corona virus are harmless. And cats infected with it rarely show any symptoms. The immune system kicks in and a healthy cat will almost always fight it off.
But in some cats—the very young and the very old—there can be a problem with the immune response or a mutation of the virus that causes the infection to progress to FIP.
No one is certain why it happens but for coronavirus to progress to FIP, the antibodies produced by the immune system to protect the cat go awry. This malfunction causes the white blood cells to become infected with the virus. The virus then travels in these cells throughout the cat’s body.
It’s this interaction between the immune system and the virus that causes the disease, making it unlike any other viral disease in animals or humans.
Is your cat at risk of getting FIP?
The bad news is that any cat that carries coronavirus can get FIP. The good news is most won’t because a healthy immune system will fight it off.
Kittens, cats with feline leukemia virus, and old cats are at greatest risk. Most cats that get FIP are under the age of 2.
Multi-cat households are also at greater risk than single cat homes. And shelters and catteries are potential breeding grounds for the disease.
FIP is not highly contagious though because your cat will shed most of the virus by the time it progresses from corona to FIP.
Coronavirus, however, is contagious and is transmitted by cat-to-cat contact and exposure to poop. It can live in the environment for several weeks.
The most common means of transmission of corona is from mom to her kittens usually between 5 and 8 weeks of age.
If you are planning on breeding your cat, talk to your vet about the risks of coronavirus.
What are the signs of FIP?
If your cat has coronavirus, you may never know it.
Some cats show mild respiratory symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes, and nasal discharge. Some have mild intestinal upset.
But once the virus progresses to FIP—which can be weeks, months or even years after exposure to corona—the symptoms may not be as subtle.
FIP comes in two forms, the wet form (effusive) and the dry form (noneffusive). The wet form targets body cavities and progresses rapidly. The dry form targets the organs.
Symptoms of the dry form are:
Chronic weight loss
Loss of appetite
Loss of vision
Loss of coordination
Early in the disease, the symptoms of the wet form are like the dry form: weight loss, fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, and depression. In addition, you may notice:
Fluid in abdomen or chest
With the wet form, your cat may develop a pot-belly from fluid in the abdomen. If too much fluid builds up, breathing may become difficult.
How will your vet diagnose and treat FIP?
FIP is difficult to diagnose because symptoms are similar to many other diseases. And there’s no diagnostic test.
A biopsy of abdominal fluid is the only way to definitively diagnose FIP.
Generally, your vet will make a presumptive diagnosis based on symptoms, blood work, history, and examination of fluid if there is any.
There is no known cure or effective treatment for FIP.
With the dry form, your vet will provide supportive care to ease symptoms that includes:
Steroids to reduce inflammation
Draining of accumulated fluids
This may give your cat a few months to live without too much discomfort. The wet form progresses so quickly, supportive care is usually not beneficial.
Once diagnosed with FIP, there’s no need to quarantine because the cat is passed the point of being contagious.
But to keep coronavirus from spreading in your multi-cat household, clean your cats’ food and water dishes, and disinfect your cats’ living space. Keep sick cats away from other cats and kittens away from cats other than their mother.
What has your experience been with feline coronavirus or feline infectious peritonitis? Share in the comment section at the top of the page.