Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is a viral disease of cats. Certain strains of feline coronavirus cause the disease which is almost always fatal. It is more likely to occur in any cats with weakened or underdeveloped immune systems such as kittens, old cats and those suffering from feline leukaemia (FeLV). FIP is not highly contagious.
During the acute infection stage, large quantities of feline coronavirus are found in the saliva and faeces of cats. The virus can survive in the environment for several weeks.
There are two types of FIP – effusive (wet) and non-effusive (dry). The same initial symptoms occur in both forms and to begin with, such symptoms are few, vague and non-specific. A slight nasal discharge, sneezing, watery eyes, rough coat and mild diarrhoea may be observed. The animal may seem depressed. It may be off its food. There may be weight loss, hair loss and fever. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more evident.
* Effusive - accounts for 60 to 70% of all cases. Progression of the disease is more rapid than in the non-effusive type. There may be fever, diarrhoea and signs of jaundice. The appetite is suppressed resulting in weight loss. The animal is abnormally lethargic and listless.
Fluids build up in the abdomen and sometimes the chest. If in the abdomen, this typically leads to the cat developing a pot-belly. In the chest, the breathing may become laboured. Once the fluids build up to the point of encroaching on the heart sac, death usually follows.
* Non-effusive –Symptoms are similar to the effusive form but there is no build up of fluid. There may be anaemia, jaundice, diarrhoea and a persistent fever. Ocular or neurological signs may be evident with the cat having difficulty standing or walking. It may become paralysed in time. The sight may deteriorate to the point of blindness.
Transmission is by secretions. Outdoor cats, particularly toms, which become involved in fights are most at risk. It is commonly passed from mother to 5 to 8 week old kittens.
Because the symptoms associated with FIP may be quite non-specific, diagnosis is often difficult. Generally a presumptive diagnosis is made. Fluid associated with FIP may be yellow in colour and high in protein. Blood tests may reveal coronavirus antibodies and high protein. A Rivalta test can differentiate between fluids associated with FIP and those caused by some other abnormality.
Any combinations of signs of abdominal distension, respiratory infection, lethargy, chronic diarrhoea or problems with vision should be reported to your vet. Although there is no cure, the cat can be made more comfortable for his remaining time.
Supportive or palliative care is the only option. Good nursing care, a nutritious diet, corticosteroids, antibiotics, fluid therapy, draining of accumulated fluids and blood transfusions are all strategies which may be considered.
Treatment is palliative and symptomatic. Immunosuppressive drugs such as Prednisone may be prescribed in an effort to prolong the life of the animal. Such drugs may sometimes by contraindicated by secondary infections. Antibiotics may be used to treat infections
Generally, the progress of effusive FIP is too rapid to allow for any significant treatment.
The only prevention possible is minimising exposure to infectious agents. Strict hygiene regimes should be implemented and observed wherever there are numbers of cats. Proper nutrition, keeping vaccinations up to date and avoiding over-crowding will all assist in keeping cats healthy. New additions or cats suspected of infections should be isolated.
FIP is relatively uncommon. Many more instances of the disorder are found in places that house many cats such as shelters and catteries. Only a small number of animals exposed to the virus will develop FIP.
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