Dealing with Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

Dealing with Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

Health & Safety

Feline infectious peritonitis or FIP is a particularly nasty disease that can affect cats with the mortality rate for cats diagnosed has having the disease being high. This is because of the aggressive nature of the disease and the many complications that are associated with it. Households where there are many cats living together in one place are more at risk of developing FIP. This is because it is an airborne disease and is found in a cat's faeces which each cat is more at risk of coming into contact with when they live together. It is worth noting that Feline Infectious Peritonitis can be transmitted by people to their cats should they have come into contact with an infected cat and that the virus can survive on contaminated surfaces for a considerable time.

The Virus Explained

The virus takes advantage of a cat's weakened immune system although it can also take hold in a young cat because their immature immune systems are not fully developed. The virus then spreads through the white blood cells that circulate around a cat's body. Kittens anything from three months to three years of age are most at risk, but three-year old cats are less predisposed to developing FIP because their immune systems are that much stronger. With this said, older cats when they reach their senior years are also more at risk because often their immune systems are often compromised with age.

Symptoms to Watch Out For

The symptoms a cat might display when they suffer from FIP can vary quite a bit as it depends on which strain of the virus they have been infected with. Another factor is just how compromised a cat's immune system might be and whether any internal organs have been negatively affected by the virus and to what extent. There are two types of the virus which are as follows:

  • Wet which is also referred to as the effusive form"" and which targets cavities found in a cat’s body
  • Dry which is also referred to as the ""noneffusive form"" and which targets a cat's organs
  • The ""wet form"" of the virus typically progresses faster than the noneffusive form, but both types negatively impact a cat's body condition and their coats start to look dull and rough. Cats also tend to quickly become depressed and lethargic when they suffer from either type of the virus.
  • The symptoms of the wet form of the virus are as follows:
  • Fever which is unresponsive to treatment and therefore persistent
  • A loss of appetite
  • Gradual weight loss
  • Diarrhoea
  • Swollen abdomen which gives a cat a pot bellied appearance
  • A build-up of fluid in a cat's chest cavity
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy

The symptoms of the dry form of the virus are as follows:

  • Slow and poor growth seen in kittens
  • Anaemia
  • Diarrhoea
  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Inflammation of certain parts of the eye
  • Neurological issues which includes loss of vision and inability to coordinate movements

The Causes

Cats typically develop FIP after they have suffered from an infection known as feline coronavirius. Studies suggest that some forms of coronaviruses mutate into FIP whether it’s on their own or because a cat's immune system has been severely and negatively compromised. It's also worth noting that a coronavirus can lay dormant in a cat’s system for months before it actually mutates into full blown FIP after which time the virus starts to infect a cat's white blood cells.

Diagnosing the Condition

Diagnosing the condition can often prove challenging because the symptoms mimic other feline disorders which is especially true when cats suffer from the dry form of the disease. A vet would recommend carrying out the following tests which would help confirm a diagnosis:

  • A complete blood count which would establish if there are any changes in the level of white blood cells
  • An IFA or ELISA test would help establish if any coronavirus antibodies are present in a cat's system
  • A PCR test
  • A sample of abdominal or thoracic cavity fluid

In some cases, a vet might recommend carrying out abdominal surgery on a cat when they suspect they are suffering from FIP especially if diagnosing the problem in other ways proves challenging.

Treatment Options

FIP is a condition that is notoriously difficult to treat and cats suffering from the condition need to be given a tremendous amount of supportive care. Should a cat be suffering from the non-effusive (dry) form of the disease, a vet would typically prescribe the following treatment:

  • A course of antibiotics
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Immunosuppressive medication with the end goal being to slow down the progress of the disease

It is worth noting that the above treatment is not a cure, but it is a way of making cats more comfortable and it can help prolong their lives for a few months. Should a cat be suffering from the effusive (wet) form of the disease, unfortunately there is no treatment available because the damaging virus spreads so quickly throughout a cat's system that the damage it causes is too extensive. As such, the prognosis for a cat suffering from this form of FIP is very poor and cats succumb to their symptoms rather quickly due to the complications that are often associated with the disease.

Living with a Cat with FIP

The prognosis is never good for any cats when they are diagnosed as having FIP which is why supportive care is all-important. Cats suffering from either form of the disease need to be made as comfortable as possible for the remainder of their lives which could be as little as a few weeks to as long as a few months. When a cat is first diagnosed with the disease they need to be kept apart from any other cats until the contagion stage has passed. After this, a cat can be reunited with other cats that might live in the same household. However, it's essential for living areas and food/water bowls to be kept clean and regularly disinfected to prevent the virus from taking hold and spreading.




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