Have you ever heard of FIP? If you’re a contentious cat parent, you need to know whether or not your cat’s at risk.
What is FIP?
FIP stands for Feline Infectious Peritonitis. It’s a viral disease in cats caused by the feline coronavirus and it’s found in cats all over the world. Almost all cats are exposed to some form of feline coronavirus at some point in their lives, but a vast majority are able to produce the necessary antibodies to fight off the infection without ever becoming sick. About 5-10% of cats who are exposed to coronavirus will develop symptomatic FIP.
Unfortunately, FIP is completely unique in the way it affects cats; no other disease in humans or animals is quite like it. I virulent cases, the cat’s own antibodies actually assist the virus in infecting the cat’s white blood cells, which then carry the disease to other parts of the body. Development of FIP is very serious and in many cases, fatal.
The Effects and Symptoms of FIP
There are two different forms of FIP: “Wet” and “Dry.” The wet form of FIP is acute and symptoms usually come on suddenly. They include weight loss, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy, but also might include fluid buildup in the abdomen or in the chest which results in trouble breathing. Dry FIP is more chronic, and symptoms often take longer to appear. They are hard to pin down and might include chronic weight loss, depression, anemia, and a persistent fever that does not respond to antibiotic therapy.
Unfortunately, cats are great at hiding disease until things get serious. By the time you notice any obvious symptoms of FIP, the disease may be very well progressed. There is no “cure” for FIP, but its symptoms may be treated individually. While some cats with FIP can be treated until the infection is overcome naturally and symptoms eventually abate, many cats who develop FIP will succumb to the disease.
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How Can Your Vet Tell if Your Cat Has FIP?
FIP is difficult to test for. Blood tests can in fact determine whether your cat has been exposed to the coronavirus, but testing positive for the virus does not necessarily mean your cat has FIP. Most cats are diagnosed after a careful examination by a veterinarian, a thorough study of history and symptoms, and results of one or more related tests are confirmed.
A few of the most common tests vets administer to determine whether a cat may be suffering from FIP include: Chest/abdomen x-rays to check for fluid buildup; glucose, pancreas, liver, or kidney tests; electrolyte tests; cardiac and/or CBC tests to rule out heart or blood diseases; feline coronavirus titer; FIP virus PCR.
Preventing FIP in Your Cat
Feline coronavirus is most often transmitted through feces. Cats who live in multiple cat homes are more likely than other cats to develop FIP, as are very young cats or kittens. Cats with compromised immune systems due to FIV or FeLV are also more likely to contract the disease, so it’s important to ensure your cat is up-to-date on all her vaccinations. Indoor cats are at far less risk than outdoor cats of contracting FIP.
There is a vaccine available for FIP, but it’s not widely used or recommended by veterinarians as it has not yet been extensively tested and appears to be only minimally effective at preventing the disease. The best way to keep your cat safe from FIP is to ensure her living quarters stay clean. Empty her litter box often and position it far away from her food and water. If you live in a multi-cat home, cleanliness is even more important. You should regularly wash all your cat’s belongings to remove any fecal residue that may be lingering.
Questions about your cat’s risk?