What Is Feline Infectious Peritonitis (Fip) and How Do Cats Get It?

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP): A Cat’s Worst Enemy

Have you ever wondered what Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is and how it affects our beloved feline friends? A lethal strain of feline coronavirus causes FIP and is responsible for the death of 95% of diagnosed cats.

But what exactly are the symptoms, and is there any hope for a cure?

A complex virus, FIP presents itself in dry and wet forms.

The dry form of FIP is characterized by symptoms such as weight loss, lethargy, and fever.

On the other hand, the wet form shares these symptoms but also includes fluid retention in the lungs and/or stomach.

This distinction is important, as it helps veterinarians diagnose the disease and determine its severity.

Interestingly, not all strains of feline coronavirus are harmful. In fact, many cats carry the benign variants known as feline enteric coronavirus.

A breakthrough in 1981 revealed a strain of feline coronavirus nearly identical to FIP, yet it only causes mild diarrhea in infected cats and clears up quickly without complications.

Unfortunately, FIP remains incurable. While a vaccine does exist, it’s not recommended and cannot be administered to all cats.

The best way to protect our feline companions is by staying informed, understanding the symptoms, and seeking prompt medical care if any concerning signs are observed.

With vigilance and awareness, we can hope to reduce this deadly disease’s impact on our furry friends’ lives.

What Are the Symptoms of FIP?

FIP is a puzzling disease, as infected cats may not exhibit symptoms for weeks, months, or even years. Only a small percentage of these cats develop full-blown FIP due to an abnormal immune response.

Let’s explore the two forms of this disease and their respective symptoms.

Initially, cats exposed to FIP show no symptoms, making early detection challenging. However, the disease manifests in two forms: wet and dry. Wet FIP progresses rapidly, often resulting in death within two weeks or even sooner from the onset of symptoms.

In contrast, dry FIP is also fatal but takes longer, usually claiming the cat’s life within two years.

At first, symptoms of FIP may appear mild, such as sneezing, wheezing, fever, lethargy, and diarrhea. As time goes on, these symptoms worsen, and antibiotics prove ineffective.

The cat’s stomach and/or lungs fill with fluid in wet FIP. The stomach may appear distended, though it is generally not painful.

Fluid-filled lungs cause breathing difficulties, leading infected cats to lie on their sides and wheeze, trying to catch their breath.

Wet FIP often presents as a crisis, causing death shortly after the first symptoms appear.

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Dry FIP, on the other hand, presents with lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea, depression, and weight loss. It kills more slowly, but there is no treatment available for either form of the disease.

If you suspect that your cat may have contracted either form of FIP, it is crucial to contact your veterinarian immediately.

Timely intervention may help manage symptoms and provide your furry friend with the best care.

How Do Cats Catch Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)?

Cats FIP

Cats catch FIP by coming into contact with the saliva or feces of other infected cats. Even house cats can develop FIP, either because they came in contact with it from their mother as a kitten, or sometimes from another indoor cat that never develops symptoms.

Many cats carry the virus around and never develop feline infectious peritonitis; no routine test for the virus exists. Sadly, this makes it nearly impossible to protect your cat from illness, although keeping litter boxes clean and away from food helps in multiple cat environments.

Why Can’t My Cat Be Tested Before FIP Develops?

No simple diagnostic test exists for feline infectious peritonitis. FIP is diagnosed by its symptoms when other feline diseases have been ruled out. The vet confirms the FIP diagnosis blood tests and a biopsy.

Because FIP so often first presents as a feline crisis, your vet may suspect FIP right away, but no single blood test can pinpoint the illness. This is because blood tests designed to find antibodies in a cat’s blood only show that the cat has been exposed to a feline coronavirus, not necessarily the cat’s exposure to the coronavirus that causes FIP. Even cats exposed to FIP will not necessarily go on to develop the disease, so blood tests have no real predictive value.

Your vet will likely have a pretty good idea just by looking at your cat whether FIP is the cause of its symptoms. If a blood test then shows a high amount of coronavirus antibodies, the diagnosis may be confirmed on that basis alone.

Can FIP Be Treated?

Can FIP Be Treated

Symptoms of feline infectious peritonitis can be treated, but FIP is an incurable illness. Your vet will instead try to alleviate your cat’s symptoms by draining fluids as they accumulate and through blood transfusions. Corticosteroid drugs, antibiotics, and cytotoxic drugs may be administered to relieve symptoms. Very rarely, these drugs provoke a short remission. If your cat is very ill, your vet may recommend euthanasia.

Your vet is more likely to treat the dry form of the disease, which can go on for as long as two years, than to treat the wet form, which heralds imminent death. If your cat is diagnosed with wet FIP, its suffering, and death is close. Consider these facts before embarking on a complex round of drugs and other interventions that may ease symptoms but will not help the cat to survive.

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The dry form of FIP results in internal granulomas, or scar tissues, appearing on various internal organs. Treatment of dry FIP involves finding which organs are being affected, then mitigating pain and other symptoms involving those organs.

Researchers continue to look for new drugs to treat or cure feline infectious peritonitis. Antiviral drugs and immune response modifiers show some promise, but nothing has emerged as a cure for now.

Cure for FIP (Video)

How Common Is FIP?

Feline infectious peritonitis is relatively rare in cats. Cats commonly contract various strains of coronavirus, but very few ever go on to show symptoms of FIP. The most common way for cats to contract the FIP coronavirus is from their mothers before they are born. Only a small percentage of those kittens will grow up and develop FIP.

Feline infectious peritonitis is slightly more common in multiple cat situations, such as shelters and boarding facilities. Scrupulous cleanliness and attention to the health of the cats in the group setting are the only real preventative. Although FIP is a scary cat disease because it is fatal, take some solace in the fact that it is pretty rare.

What About Cats That Do Recover?

Red cat is ill

For every rule, someone will present a dramatic exception. FIP kills 95% of the cats that develop it. That means it doesn’t kill 5% of these cats.

Even though many cats recover from FIP, rest assured your vet is not trying to bully you into euthanasia or take part in some grand conspiracy to take FIP lightly. Vets want a cure for FIP. Vets recommend euthanasia to save your cat from a painful death, not to kill a cat that would likely survive.

No one can force you to euthanize your beloved pet. Some people feel better attempting to push their cats into the lucky 5% by intensively caring for them and trying every possible treatment. If that is the direction you choose, your vet will be able to recommend the best course of action and will likely check on your cat often.

If you have multiple cats and do not want to euthanize your cat, but are worried for the others, rest assured they are not likely to catch the illness from the infected cat. Cats with active symptoms actually shed very small amounts of FIP. In fact, your other cats may well already carry the virus and may never develop symptoms.

One good preventative measure, however, is isolating the sick cat and giving it a separate litter box. If your cat does not recover, at least you tried. Before you embark on this course, understand that your cat will most likely take a turn for the worse and die and that it can happen quickly, especially with the wet form of FIP.

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Why Do Some Cats Get FIP and Not Others?

The question of why some cats come down with FIP symptoms and others never get sick is a complex one. Sometimes kittens from the same litter will all stay healthy except for one. Why that one, and not the others?

Some say that stress is a trigger, but the truth is, no one really knows. Researchers hypothesize that two things have to happen in order for a cat to develop fatal FIP: 1) the virus has to mutate into the FIP form, and 2) the cat has to have an immune deficiency response to that mutation that allows the virus to spread quickly throughout the cat’s system.

If stress was a factor, why would kittens from the same litter not all come down with feline infectious peritonitis after a chaotic period like a move or the loss of a mother? The trouble with trying to answer unanswerable questions is that the endpoint is often a lot of guilt being picked up by the pet owner. If your cat has FIP, it isn’t your fault; nothing you could have done or not done would have prevented it.

Can My Older Cat Get FIP? Can My Dog Get It? Can I?

Most cats that die from feline infectious peritonitis are under two years old. However, older cats can come down with the illness, especially if they are over fourteen years of age and/or have another feline immunodeficiency disease, such as feline leukemia. Mostly, FIP is a young cat killer, but it can theoretically affect any cat.

Dogs cannot contract feline infectious peritonitis, and neither can people. The illness is specific to cats. Dogs and people can carry coronaviruses but can’t catch them from a cat, even a very sick cat.

What About a Vaccine?

A vaccine for feline infectious peritonitis exists, but it is controversial. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has categorized the FIP vaccination as “not generally recommended.” This does not necessarily mean the vaccine is dangerous or bad, just that it isn’t a vaccine that most cats need.

For the FIP vaccination to be administered, a cat must first be tested for exposure to feline coronavirus. This can involve a variety of expensive blood tests, and the results can be inconclusive. The vaccine is administered nasally if it is deemed beneficial to the cat.

Talk to your vet if you want your cat vaccinated for feline infectious peritonitis. The number of cats that come down with this devastating illness is very small compared to the general population worldwide. Your vet may well discourage vaccinating the cat against FIP.

If the vaccination is given, the schedule is one dose for cats at least sixteen weeks of age, followed by a second dose three to four weeks later. Once the vaccine is given, yearly boosters are recommended.

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Putting It All in Perspective

In the wild, cats give birth to numerous kittens, as the majority never reach adulthood. These vulnerable kittens often fall victim to predators, injuries, starvation, or illness. Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is one such disease that nature employs to cull weaker kittens early on.

Naturally, we don’t want our cherished pets to live in such a harsh and unforgiving environment. When a young cat succumbs to a devastating fatal illness like FIP, it may feel incredibly unfair and heart-wrenching. We might never notice these tragedies if not for our love for these feline companions.

The impact of FIP is particularly poignant because it frequently affects cats under two years of age. In many cases, you may have only just begun to know and love your young cat. It’s crucial to understand that experiencing grief during this time is entirely normal. Talking to other pet owners who have lost beloved animals can help you realize that your feelings are valid and that healing is possible. Rest assured that your cat has had a better life with you, however brief than it ever would have without your care.

Although you might initially feel that you never want to adopt another cat, this sentiment is often temporary. When the time comes, and another cat catches your attention or, as fate may have it, a cat chooses you by appearing on your doorstep, don’t hesitate to open your home and your heart. Most indoor cats enjoy lifespans of ten to sixteen years or more, providing many years of companionship.

Loving a cat requires a special person with a big heart. Allow yourself to grieve, heal, and welcome a new feline friend into your life when you’re ready.

FIP: Feline Infectious Peritonitis (Video)

10 Related Questions about Cats and FIP

1. How can the risk of FIP transmission be minimized in multi-cat households?

To minimize the risk of FIP transmission in multi-cat households, maintain proper hygiene by cleaning litter boxes regularly, isolating sick cats from healthy ones, and keeping a clean environment. Also, avoid overcrowding and minimize stress for your cats, as stress can weaken their immune systems and make them more susceptible to infections.

2. What is the current status of FIP research, and are there any potential treatments on the horizon?

FIP research is ongoing, with researchers continuously studying the disease to better understand its mechanisms and develop effective treatments. Recent advances include antiviral drugs like GS-441524 and other experimental drugs such as interferons and immunomodulators. While no cure is available, these treatments promise to manage and reduce FIP symptoms in some cats.

3. Can FIP be prevented through specific dietary or environmental measures?

There is no foolproof way to prevent FIP, but maintaining a clean environment, reducing stress, and providing a balanced diet can help boost your cat’s immune system and reduce the risk of contracting the virus. Regular vaccinations against common feline diseases are essential to keep your cat healthy and less susceptible to infections.

4. How does the feline immune system respond to the feline coronavirus, and why do some cats develop FIP while others do not?

The feline immune system typically produces antibodies to fight off the feline coronavirus. However, in some cases, the virus mutates and causes a harmful immune response, leading to FIP. The reason why some cats develop FIP while others don’t isn’t well-understood, but it is believed that genetic factors, immune system function, and overall health play a role in determining susceptibility.

5. What are the long-term effects of FIP on a cat’s overall health if it survives the initial infection?

FIP is usually fatal; most cats do not survive the initial infection. However, if a cat does manage to survive FIP, it may experience long-term health issues, such as organ damage, reduced immune function, and an increased risk of developing other infections. These cats will likely require ongoing medical care and monitoring to maintain their quality of life.

6. Are certain cat breeds more susceptible to FIP than others?

FIP can affect cats of any breed, but some studies suggest that purebred cats, particularly the Birman and Bengal breeds, may be more susceptible to the disease. However, further research is needed to confirm these findings and determine the underlying reasons for this increased susceptibility.

7. What is the typical FIP diagnosis and treatment cost for cat owners?

The cost of diagnosing and treating FIP can vary greatly depending on the complexity of the case, the required tests, and the chosen treatment. Diagnosis can include blood tests, x-rays, and ultrasound, which can range from $100 to $500. Treatment costs, such as antiviral medications and supportive care, can easily exceed $1,000-$2,000 or more, depending on the severity of the disease and the duration of treatment.

8. How can pet owners differentiate FIP from other common feline diseases with similar symptoms?

Differentiating FIP from other feline diseases can be challenging due to its nonspecific symptoms. A veterinarian will need to perform various diagnostic tests, such as blood work, imaging, and possibly a biopsy or fluid analysis, to rule out other conditions and confirm FIP. It’s essential to consult with a veterinarian if you suspect your cat may have FIP or any other illness, as early diagnosis and intervention can be crucial for the best outcome.

9. Are there any support groups or resources available for cat owners dealing with FIP in their pets?

Several support groups and resources are available for cat owners coping with FIP. Online forums, social media groups, and websites dedicated to FIP offer valuable information, emotional support, and assistance connecting with others who have experienced FIP in their cats. Your veterinarian may also be able to recommend local support groups or resources.

10. Can stress or other environmental factors contribute to the development of FIP in cats?

Stress and other environmental factors can weaken a cat’s immune system, making them more susceptible to infections, including FIP. Overcrowded living conditions, poor nutrition, and underlying health issues can also contribute to the development of the disease. Reducing stress, providing a clean environment, and ensuring a balanced diet can help support your cat’s overall health and minimize the risk of FIP.

"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett

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