By VanEastVet, on Monday, August 17th, 2015
FIP, or Feline Infectious Peritonitis, is a viral disease that affects both wild and domestic cats. It is particularly prevalent in multi-cat households, so if you own two or more cats, this article concerns you.
FIP occurs when a cat becomes infected by a Feline Coronavirus. There are two such coronaviruses: an avirulent or mildly-virulent strain, and a virulent strain. Cats infected by the avirulent strain usually have little to worry about, as the virus almost always presents itself as diarrhea and nothing more. In fact, a large percentage of cats are infected by the avirulent Feline Coronavirus, which means they can host the virus and pass it along without being infected. However, cats infected by the virulent strain of the virus usually do not fare so well: in addition to fever, lethargy, and weight loss, the virus can target multiple organs and systems of the body, and almost always results in death.
Unfortunately, diagnosing FIP can be a challenge: first because the symptoms of FIP are vague and nonspecific to the disease, and second because there is currently no test to distinguish between the two different coronaviruses; a veterinarian may suspect that your cat has FIP, and the test may confirm the diagnosis, but unto itself the test is inconclusive. If you suspect that your cat exhibits some of the symptoms of FIP, see your veterinarian immediately to help narrow down the cause. Symptoms include:
- Accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity (non-painful)
- Excessive thirst and urination
- Difficulty breathing
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Incontinence or constipation
- Loss of balance / tremors / convulsions
- Inflammation of the eyes
- Pale mucous membranes
If your cat is diagnosed with FIP, treatment of the disease at this stage is purely symptomatic. There is no known cure for FIP, and very few survivors of the disease. Ongoing supportive care and therapy and medication can ease the cat’s pain, and improve their quality of life, but the fact remains that no cure yet exists, and euthanasia is often considered the most humane route at this stage.
However, there are a few easy precautions you can take to help prevent the onset and spread of FIP in your household. FIP is transmitted through the saliva and feces of infected cats, so cat-to-cat contact and exposure to the virus via the communal litter box are the two primary sources of spread. Clean the litter box often, once a day, or once every two days at most. The litter should be replaced every week, and the litter box thoroughly disinfected. FIP may also be spread through contaminated water dishes, bedding, and other personal effects, but as the coronavirus is not particularly resistant outside of a host body, frequent washing and disinfecting these should significantly reduce the chance of spread. If you do have a cat afflicted with FIP, keep it isolated from other cats in the household, and be vigilant not to contaminate your healthy cats by exposing them to the virus (via shared blankets or bedding, food and water dishes, toys, etc).
As with most viruses, FIP can be especially difficult on kittens, seniors cats, or cats with compromised immunity, so if you have one of these, be particularly mindful to follow these precautions closely.