As a cat owner you might have heard of FIP. Until very recently, FIP was a death sentence for cats. However, recently medication has become available to treat FIP. But what is FIP, what are the symptoms of FIP, and is there anything that can be done to prevent FIP?
What is FIP?
FIP, not to be confused with FIV, stands for Feline Infectious Peritonitis. FIP is a viral disease that affects both domesticated and wild cats. Cats can develop FIP after they get infected with the Feline Coronavirus(FeCV) and it changes(mutates) to specific strains of this Corona virus, which happens in about 10% of the cases. Feline Coronavirus itself is extremely common, and up to 50% of cats living in a single household, and 80% to 90% in a multicat household, will contract the virus at least once in their lives. Feline Coronavirus usually gives no serious symptoms besides mild diarrhoea and/or mild upper respiratory issues, FIP on the other hand will have significant health implications and is fatal without treatment. Feline Coronavirus is different from the Coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in humans.
FeCV -> FIP
When a cat gets infected with Feline Coronavirus(FeCV), their body usually starts creating antibodies within 7-10 days after infection. In cats that develop FIP, one or more mutations of the virus will alter the virus ‘s behaviour. The virus will start infecting the white blood cells making it spread throughout the cat’s body. Once this occurs Feline Coronavirus has developed into FIP. Severe inflammatory reactions happen in vessels in the body where the infected cells are located, like the kidneys, brain and abdomen.
FIP can take on a dry or wet form. The wet form is also called the effusive form of FIP, and the dry form the non-effusive form. Depending on the form the cat develops, symptoms may vary. In the early stages cats often generally present with rising and falling fever, depression, energy loss and loss of appetite. Depending on the form they develop the following symptoms may also arise. An important note is that wet FIP can turn into dry FIP and vice versa.
Symptoms Wet FIP – Effusive form of FIP
- Extended abdomen as fluids build up in the abdomen.
- Difficulty breathing as fluid builds up in the chest.
- Inflammation due to fluid leaking into the chest and/or abdomen.
Symptoms Dry FIP – Non-effusive form of FIP
- Weight Loss
- Excessive drinking and peeing
- Abnormal movements
There is no test available that will give a 100% certain FIP diagnosis. Antibody tests for Coronavirus cant distinguish between Feline Coronavirus and FIP, making them unreliable for a FIP diagnosis. Diagnosis is usually made based on symptoms and supportive testing. Cats that present with jaundice (yellowing of eyes and gums) and have abnormally high, or low, white blood cells, and elevated protein levels in the blood might have FIP. If a cat has build-up fluid in the chest and/or abdomen, this fluid can be tested. If this fluid has a yellow tinge and is high in protein, this can indicate FIP. There are more additional tests that can be done to support the FIP diagnosis.
Until recently FIP was untreatable. New antiviral drugs have been developed to help treat FIP, but they aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration yet. The antiviral medication seems to be an effective treatment for wet FIP. While it also treats dry FIP, it’s less effective as when used with wet FIP. Additional supportive treatments can be given when necessary.
Research has shown that the following cats are at more risk of developing FIP. Though the reasons for this have remained unclear.
- Younger cats are at more risk of developing FIP and in about 70% of the cases cats are below 1.5 years of age.
- Housing in overcrowded living conditions, like shelters.
- Purebred cats
- Male cats
- Senior cats
As FIP develops from Feline Coronavirus, the best way to prevent FIP is to prevent your cat from contracting Feline Coronavirus. Feline Coronavirus is highly contagious and passes through saliva and faeces of infected cats. FIP is not believed to be contagious.
To try prevent an infection with Feline Coronavirus:
- Keep the living conditions of the cat(s) clean. Routinely clean litter boxes, water and food bowls.
- Prevent overcrowded living conditions.
- Don’t place food and water near litter boxes and make sure there is a sufficient amount of litter boxes available for the amount of cats present.
- Keep your cat as healthy as possible by feeding them a species appropriate complete diet, keep their living conditions clean and tidy, and regularly have their overall health checked by a veterinarian.
- Preventing stress in cats might help prevent FeCV from developing in FIP.
There is a vaccination for FIP available. This vaccination however has not been proven effective enough and thus is generally not recommended.
FIP is a serious disease seen in cats that requires immediate intervention, which thankfully recently has become available. If you suspect your cat may have FIP, see a vet as soon as possible. The sooner treatment is started, the more chances your cat will have to survive. When caught in time and treatment is started, cats have a good chance of survival. If you would like to know more about our cat sitting or cat relocation services, feel free to contact us. Our team will be happy to help.