|Feral cats Israel - photo by yell saccani (A.S)|
Feline FIP is cat (feline) infectious peritonitis. Peritonitis affects humans as well and in humans it is an inflammation of the peritoneum, which is a thin membrane in the abdomen that hold the internal organs in place and acts as a conduit for blood vessels, nerves and lymph vessels.
In cats the disease is not confined to the peritoneum, however. The virus that causes the disease, a member of the family Coronaviridae, causes inflammation of the fine blood vessels (the capillary blood vessels) of the body generally. This is called "vasculitis". This results in the loss of fluids to the tissues.
The Coronavirus (FCoV - see Feline Viruses) is so called because the virus is circled by a corona or crown of circular structures on thin spikes. These structures are called viral spikes or peplomers.
The virus lives in the cat's intestine. For 9 out of 10 cats it's presence has no detrimental effect. For the remaining cats the virus leaves the intestine and, as mentioned, inflames the capillary blood vessels (vasculitis). Half of the cats that contract vasculitis develop Feline FIP.
The disease is spread from cat to cat through close and continuous contact with infected secretions. This can be through, for example, sneezing or sharing a food bowl when transference takes place through the saliva. Apparently the most common route for transmission of the virus is through feces. The virus enters the cat through the nose and mouth.
Three quarters of exposed cats show no sign of infection. Of the 25% that do show signs of infection the first symptoms of feline FIP are a runny nose and/or eye discharge. Cats can recover from this and show no symptoms but remain carriers of the disease nonetheless.
Of the cats exposed to the disease, 5% (or is it 1%) go on to develop the secondary disease, which is fatal. Feline FIP tends to infect either young or old cats. That is cats in the age range 6 months to 5 years and 11 years and older. It would seem that an age less than 18 months is the most vulnerable time.
Clearly there is a greater chance of infection where many cats live together as in a cattery or a multiple cat household. Catteries are concerned with the breeding of purebred cats so it is often purebred cats that suffer the disease. Also more vulnerable cats will be those that are run down (and have a lowered resistance) because of a prior illness.
There are two forms, wet and dry feline FIP. Both forms prove fatal.
Wet Feline FIP
Fluid builds in the body spaces including the heart sac, hence the name. The symptoms are general and it can be hard to differentiate the symptoms of this disease from other feline diseases. Symptoms include loss of appetite and weight, listlessness, running a temperature (fever of 106 degrees), vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, anemia, jaundice (yellow skin - liver failure) and unsurprisingly the cat looks very ill.
Dry Feline FIP
Fluid is not produced hence the name. This is also called the "disseminated form" and is difficult to diagnose. "Dissemination" means diffused or dispersed. The symptoms, early on, are similar to Wet Feline FIP.
In a quarter of cases the eyes are affected. The color of the eyes may change and a reddish area on the iris, bleeding into the eye and the eye may be cloudy.
A number of organs can be affected namely the brain (brain damage), liver (liver failure), kidney and pancreas (see Feline Pancreatitis). 10-20% of cats with Feline FIP also suffer from Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV - see Feline Leukemia Symptoms). The dry form leads to death over a longer period. This is a traumatic disease for both the cat and the person. People whose cats have died by this disease have spoken of the devastation they felt. It was obviously a traumatic event for them.
The prognosis as mentioned is bad as there is not cure and all cats who develop either version of Feline FIP will die in a few weeks. All vets and keepers can do is to make the cat as comfortable as possible.
Prevention is the only option therefore. A controversial vaccine is available that is inoculated into the nose. It is a problematic vaccination and not recommended it seems as a routine vaccination (see cat vaccination recommendations).
Maintaining the cat's natural immunity is a factor. This is achieved in a common sense way through good nutrition, low stress environment (spacious enclosure and room to exercise), good cat parasite control (see cat parasite pictures - this is not comprehensive), early treatment of illness and regular grooming (grooming your cat).
Cat breeders and boarding catteries will disinfect with bleach regularly. Routine testing of all the cats for Feline FIP in homes where there are a number of cats is a proactive measure. Testing though it seems is also problematic.
Update 11-Jan-2009: Bearing in mind that the corona virus is carried by a large number of cats in a benign way could it be possible that vaccination carried out too early might trigger the onset of feline FIP? Cat vaccinations are quite traumatic for a young cat and are to be taken seriously by the cat owner. They are not routine procedures to become complacent about. One or two breeders might agree with the above suggestion, I think.
More information: Feline Infectious Peritonitis
Feline FIP - Sources:
- Veterinary Notes for Cat Owners by Dr Trevor Turner and Jean Turner VN
- Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin
Feline FIP to Cat health problems