What is FIP?

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April 27, 2011
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FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) is a disease that is spread through domestic and wild cats worldwide. It’s a virus that attacks the cells of the intestinal wall and and manifests itself in forms known as “wet” and “dry.” FIP is almost always fatal and is caused by a virus.

How is FIP transmitted?

FIP can be spread from cat to cat by direct exposure to an infected cat’s feces and saliva. Large colonies of cats and places where cats are kept together can increase the chances of an infected cat spreading the virus to others. FIP occurs most often in cats ranging from 3 months to 3 years of age and older cats that are 10+ years old. It is because these age ranges tend to have immune systems that are not as strong as a fully grown, healthy, adult cat. Outdoor cats are at greater risk of meeting and being exposed to another cat that has FIP in their area.

What are the symptoms of FIP?

Signs of both the “wet” and “dry” form of FIP are fever that doesn’t respond to antibiotics, anorexia, lethargy, and weight loss. The wet form of FIP is characterized by a build up of fluid in the abdominal cavity, the chest cavity, or both. The buildup of liquid in the chest creates labored breathing among cats who have contracted the virus and cats with fluid in the abdomen show a distended abdomen which seems painless.

In the dry form of FIP small accumulations of granulomas attach themselves to organs and can damage them. Some cats may experience paralysis if the granulomas attach themselves to the central nervous system. Other symptoms include disorientation, loss of balance, behavior changes, and incontinence. Often the kidney and liver are affected and chemistry tests must be done to evaluate how badly these organs are being affected.

How is FIP diagnosed?

Diagnosing FIP is challenging, the test used cannot completely determine if a cat has the virus. The test looks to see if there are antibodies to FIP in the body. A positive test result could mean the cat has FIP but it could also mean that the cat was exposed to FIP and has somehow eliminated the virus, the cat is a carrier, was vaccinated against FIP, or has developed FIP. A negative test result can mean that the cat was never exposed to the virus, has the virus but it is so early that an antibody is not yet detectable, the cat is infected but either cannot make the antibody or the antibody is wrapped up in FIP complexes so it’s not detectable, or the test was not sensitive enough to detect any antibodies.

How is FIP treated and prevented?

FIP is fatal in more than 95% of cases. Cats can be given care by a vet and made comfortable and extend the life for a short amount of time. Prednisone is used to slow down the progression of the disease. There is research to find a way to slow down the course of the disease and kill the virus.

In large cat communities under care of a shelter, cattery, or humane society, the spread of FIP can be prevented by thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting areas where the cats are and limiting the amount of cats to an area that share items such as dishes, toys, bedding, and litter boxes. Isolating the infected cats to an area or room where they can live together also keeps the unaffected cats safe.

If a cat is indoor/outdoor regular vet visits, good nutrition, and not allowing the cat out if there seems to be a colony nearby that could have the virus can cut down on transmission.

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