Infection of a cat with the FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) virus is any cat breeder or cat owner’s worst nightmare. Not only is it very difficult to diagnose, it is even more difficult to eradicate from a cattery, and worst of all, it is almost always a fatal disease. Unfortunately, the disease is fairly common in South Africa.
FIP can result in a great variety of clinical symptoms and can mimic many other conditions. Signs of the disease may be sudden and acute in onset, or slow and progressive. It is usually the young (less than 2 years old) and the very old cats that are affected but any age cat is susceptible. Two major forms of the disease are encountered: The “wet” or effusive form, and the “dry” or granulomatous form. In the wet form, the classic symptom is that of a swollen abdomen due to fluid accumulation. The fluid may also accumulate in the chest cavity, resulting in very difficult breathing or shortness of breath. Other signs, such as fever, weight loss, loss of appetite and listlessness are also usually present. The dry form may be very difficult to recognise due to it manifesting with a large variety of symptoms. Fever, weight loss and loss of appetite are usually present. Signs of disease of the liver, kidneys, brain or eyes may be present, e.g., abnormal behaviour, seizures, drunken walking, blindness, jaundice, or dehydration. Any one or all of these symptoms may occur at any one time during the disease.
FIP is very difficult to diagnose. There is no single blood or laboratory test that can confirm the disease, other than the microscopic examination of tissue samples (which can often only be obtained after death or through surgical removal). Your veterinarian usually has to diagnose the disease by accumulating sufficient evidence in support of the diagnosis, rather than through the use of a single test. These may include analysis of the fluid accumulation, blood tests, X-rays, ultrasound examinations and biopsies of affected organs.
The disease is invariably fatal, although the duration of illness may be very long. All current treatments are aimed at making the patient more comfortable and alleviating symptoms. Antibiotics and cortisone are generally used, as well as other medication to control specific symptoms. Your vet will advise you and prescribe treatments as necessary.
There is currently no vaccine locally available to prevent the disease. Transmission of the virus occurs through casual contact and sharing of air space. Infected cats shed the virus and act as the source of infection to others. Apparently healthy “carrier” cats may unfortunately also infect others. The virus is easily killed in kennels with the use of disinfectants, but if left undisturbed, it may survive for many weeks. After contact with the virus, not all cats will develop the illness, and in those that do, the first symptoms may only appear many months after exposure to the virus. Cats cannot be tested to evaluate whether they carry the virus, so breeders should be careful to use “test and remove” prevention programs. Basic good cattery management and hygiene is the only weapon we currently have to prevent this killer disease.Leave a reply →