FIP, also known as Feline Infectious Peritonitis, is a viral disease that affects cats in a variety of different ways. It is a disease that progresses over time, and is usually fatal. It is not only found in cats in the wild, but also affects domesticated housecats. It is caused by a virus known as feline coronavirus, or FCoV. There are mainly two types of FCoV, one in which doesn’t cause disease and another that does. If your cat has the latter, which is known as feline enteric coronavirus, or FECV, then they are at risk for FIP. It is thought that the FIP virus occurs when the FECV mutates and begins to replicate, but the cause of this mutation is not yet clear.
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How FIP is Transmitted
FIP is actually transmitted through saliva and feces from cats who are infected. Contact between cats, especially exposure to fecal matter in litter boxes, is the most common way to contract this virus, but it can also survive in contaminated food dishes, bedding, toys and other items that the cat comes into contact with. It can also be transmitted to kittens in utero through the placenta.
Typically, the virus can live in the environment for up to 7 weeks.
The FCoV virus, however, doesn’t always lead to FIP. There are a few things that can occur. Here are the four main reactions that a cat can have when they are exposed to the virus:
- Cats that have strong cellular immunity can often times just fight the infection.
- Cats that have a moderately strong cellular immunity may be unable to kill the virus altogether, but they can usually keep it from progressing further.
- Cats that have relatively weak cellular immunity are at a higher risk. The virus may multiply slowly until it mutates into FIP. This is usually known as dry FIP.
- Cats that have really weak cellular immunity may not be able to control the multiplication of the virus at all, and it may lead to the wet FIP, which is much more damaging to your cat’s health.
Are Some Cats More Likely to Get FIP?
So the question remains, are some cats at a higher risk of FIP? Cats that are more likely to get this viral infection are those that have weakened immune systems.
Older cats, kittens and cats that have feline leukemia virus are a lot more likely to have a weakened immune system, and are thus more prone to FIP. It is most common, however, in kittens between 4 and 6 weeks of age. This is when they aren’t getting as much of the antibodies from their mother’s milk anymore, and thus their immunity is weakened. Kittens that have developed FIP will typically die anywhere between 8 months and 18 months old.
FIP is also more likely to occur in certain breeds than others, and the reason is still unsure. Persians, for instance, have been noted to be more likely to have FIP. It is unsure if this is because of their genetic makeup, or because of where they live.
Signs and Symptoms of FIP in Cats
While there are two different forms of FIP as we discussed earlier, the wet FIP and dry FIP, their signs and symptoms can often overlap each other. Here are some of the tell-tale signs of both types of FIP:
Diagnosing FIP in Cats
There is no way to self-diagnose FIP in cats. It is something that only a veterinarian can do. Really the only way to truly diagnose with full certainty is to do a biopsy of the tissues that have been affected. A veterinary pathologist will then examine the tissue and see if FIP is present. Sadly, the tissue samples are often not done until after it is too late. It is definitely not an easy infection to diagnose.
Treatment of FIP
First and foremost, it is important to understand that there is no cure for FIP. It is also not very common for a cat to survive with FIP. Supportive care to extend life and make sure that the cat is comfortable is usually the best course of treatment. Most cats with dry FIP, however, will live longer because it progresses much slower. This supportive care may include:
- draining of chest fluid
- fluid therapies
- good quality nutrients
- antibiotics to ward off secondary infection
- blood transfusions in cases of anemia
It goes without saying that prevention is the best method of action! Here are a few different things that you should do to prevent FIP, especially if you have a multicat home.
- change the litter box regularly
- keep the litter boxes away from food and water bowls
- when you bring a new cat into your home, quarantine them until they have been checked out
While there is no foolproof way to prevent FIP, these tips will definitely help. There is also one licensed vaccination for FIP. It is temperature sensitive and it is given to cats when they reach four months of age.
It is safe, but it is unsure if it is actually effective at preventing FIP. Talk to your vet to see if the vaccination is something that is right for your cat.
As you can see, FIP is not something that you want to mess around with. If you suspect that your cat may be infected, get them to the vet as soon as possible. While the prognosis isn’t good, you can prolong their life and keep them comfortable if you catch it early on.