Archive for May, 2007


Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) in a nutshell

16 May, 2007

FIP or Feline Infectious Peritonitis was one of the topics that was discussed at the recent Novice Breeder Advice seminar.

A huge thank-you to Dr Susan Little, Dr Danielle Gunn-Moore, Dr Leslie A. Lyons for sharing their wisdom.

The majority of cases of FIP are fatal.  That’s why FIP is so feared by breeders. There is a very strong taboo in breeding circles against FIP, and I think what was good about the seminar was that it went a long way in demonstrating that FIP is a disease that many breeders will encounter, and that we should not ostracise those breeders who have been unfortunate enough to have cats who’ve contracted FIP.

There’s loads of information on the internet on this, so this is a quick guide.

1.  What are the symptoms of FIP?  There are two types of FIP – wet and dry.  With wet FIP the cat tends to swell up with fluid.  Progress of wet FIP tends to be quick.  With dry FIP, the cat loses condition and it can take months for the disease to progress.

2.  What causes FIP?  FIP is caused by a mutation of the coronavirus (FCoV) in a cat.  It occurs in many cats, both in pedigrees and moggies.  It is common in multi-cat households.  It is often spread through litter-trays.

The majority of cats with coronavirus remain healthy (about 90% or more). So, it’s not the coronavirus, but the mutation of the coronavirus that is the problem.

What causes the mutation of coronavirus?  Three factors have been identified: Stress, genes, the presence of coronavirus shedders in a cattery and multiple-cat environments. Young cats (from 6 months to 2 years) and old cats are the most affected (possibly because in young cats the immune system is still not fully-developed, and in older cats the immune system is vulnerable).

3.  How can FIP be detected/diagnosed?  The problem is that FIP diagnosis is difficult.  A cat can have a high titre of coronavirus but that doesn’t mean that it will develop FIP.  And coronavirus titres can go up and down depending on the state of the cat’s health.

Testing for FIP does not always show FIP viruses.  There is a problem with interpreting the test. The same FIP test can be sent to different laboratories and come back with different results. The only way to positively establish FIP is through post-mortem organ testing.  Often diagnosis of FIP in still-living cats is through symptoms.

4.  Is it possible to have a negative coronavirus cat? Yes, but there is no guarantee that it won’t pick it up later in life.

Yes, but only by taking very stringent hygiene measures such as isolating the cats and using separate changes of clothing for each group. The life cycle of the virus is such that it can persist in cat litter for three to seven weeks, so rigorous cleaning must be maintained. Most closed catteries with fewer than 10 cats will eventually eliminate the coronavirus. The cats will stop shedding the virus and the antibody titres will eventually decline. However, all cats must be tested every three to six months.

Pregnant queens have to be isolated and the kittens separated at the age of five to six weeks.

With recurrent FIP cases, it is recommended that breeding should be suspended for a period of approximately six months.

5. Is there a treatment for cats with FIP? If you have a cat with suspected FIP, and are reading this, please don’t read this and despair. Do research the web, and contact Dr Susan Little for help. I’m all too aware that this report can come across as blunt and like you, I would move heaven and earth to find a cure if any of my cats fall ill.

At present there is no known effective treatment for FIP apart from improving the cat’s comfort. Recombinant feline interferon and pentoxifylline are treatments that have shown some limited success, and you may want to discuss them with your vet.

Some holistic sites, like Holisticat, have some alternative therapies that may help boost the immune system of the cat.

A vaccine, Primucell FIP (Pfizer) is available in Europe and the US (not in the UK), but it has had a variable success rate. And once a cat is infected with the coronavirus, the vaccine is of no benefit.

6.  What work is being done to eradicate FIP?  Research is currently being conducted into sussing out the DNA of FIP (type 1 – the most common type).  This will help in its detection.  Work is also being done to establish the marker in cats’ genes that may pre-dispose the cat to FIP. Please also check out the web-site of the Novice Breeder Advice group who are throwing their support behind FIP research and who would welcome any help you can give.

For more information these sites are invaluable:


Novice Breeder Advice Cat Club – seminar on 12 May 2007

5 May, 2007

If you’re a novice breeder, or just want to learn more about breeding cats, and meet cat breeders, then you may be interested in the Novice Breeder Advice Cat club seminar on 12 May 2007.  The venue is the Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College nr Amersham

There is a line-up of illustrious professionals in the field of cat health and behaviour:  Dr Susan Little, DVM; Vicky Halls (cat behaviourist); Dr Danielle Gunn-Moore; Dr Lesley Lyons and Valentina Koulagina and Anatoli Krassavine (cat photographers).

Full details can be found on:


What makes a top show cat?

5 May, 2007


(one of the top cats at the TICA Easter Purrade show.  The judge is Vickie Shields, showing her appreciation for a great cat.)

Put a whole group of prize-winning cats in a judging ring, all of them with sound conformation and excellent type – how do you select the top cat from such stiff competition?

At the recent TICA Easter Purrade cat show, one of the judges summed up how she chose the top cat of top cats:  it had to make her laugh.

Yes, at the end of the day, when you have a row of perfect cats, it’s personality that counts in a cat show.

If you look at the judge’s table in a TICA show ring, you’ll see some toys and props that a judge uses to suss out what a cat is like.  There’ll usually be a cat scratching post, a stick-type toy with a feathery lure, and maybe something that makes a noise.  Vickie Shields also had some miniature plastic penguins (which were weighted so they wobbled back and forth) on the table (if you look closely at the photo, you’ll see one of the penguins near the Bengal’s head).  This allows the cat being judged to focus on the table rather than on the audience.  Female cats especially are easily distracted by their surroundings – it’s an evolutionary trait because female cats have had to look out for their kittens and tend to be more aware of what’s going on, to stop the owl flying overhead from going for her kitten.  So, the toy penguins allow cats to look downwards rather than out.  All part of the tricks-of-the-trade of a TICA judge!

The top Top cat in the ring was a Bengal stud cat.  Now, based on my personal experience with my Bengal girl neuter, I expect a cat who’s intractable, noisy and difficult to handle.  So I was anticipating the worse from an entire male at the peak of his strength and health!  What I saw instead was a Bengal who was a delight to handle.  The judge held him up facing her and he placed his paws on her, she chatted to him and he took it all in good spirits.  (if it had been my girl the judge would have been short of one eye by then!).

The winning point came when the Bengal started climbing up the scratching post.  The judge tried to pick him up and he squirmed downwards in her hands, so that he was climbing DOWN the post, bum in the air.  The whole audience laughed too.

That Bengal was bomb-proof and a joy to handle.  He entertained us all.  He deserved to be Top of the Top cats.


Is your cat cow-hocked?

5 May, 2007

This is something else I learnt at the recent TICA Easter Purrade cat show.

The judges were not only selecting cats that were true to breed type, they also emphasised selection on the basis of sound conformation.

What is sound conformation and why is it so important?

Conformation is the physical structure of the cat, for e.g. the skeletal structure.  If there are problems with the skeletal structure, then it will affect the health of the cat.

In the case of cow-hocked cats, the hind legs of the cat turn inward, and this causes the feet to point outwards, rather than forwards.  (this problem also affects horses and dogs)

Why should this be such an issue?  When the hind legs turn inward, this places stress on the hips and spine and can lead to problems such as arthritis, or spinal problems.  It’s also a possible cause of chronic pain.

The problem is that cats don’t show pain, and tend to shoulder on despite of what in humans would be a cause for painkillers.  Imagine jumping off kitchen counters with painful hips.  And of course, by the time the cat shows signs of suffering, the damage is often deep-set and irreparable.

So what’s the solution?

Simply – to breed cats which aren’t cow-hocked.  Rumour has it that many years back there was a spate of cow-hocked cats in a particular breed in the US, but after one of the TICA judges gave a presentation on the suffering it caused, the breeders got the message and two years later, most of the cats of that breed were no longer cow-hocked.

How can you see if your cat is cow-hocked?  You need to pick your cat up with one hand under its front legs, and the other just in front of its hind legs (not on the stomach which will cause it discomfort).  Now, place the cat down on a table, and watch the hind legs and paws.  It helps if you have someone sitting at eye level to the table surface, to judge whether the paws turn in, or out, or face forwards.  If at the point of contact, the hind legs bend at the hocks, then it may be a sign that there is weakness, or pain.

As a novice breeder I’ve had dinned into me the necessity of breeding to type.  So I think what surprised me at the show, is seeing the number of top show cats who were “typey” who were cow-hocked.  What are we doing to our precious cats?

There should be no compromise where the health of our cats is concerned.  And that’s something the judges at TICA wanted to emphasise.  One of the winning cats was a young Maine Coon female.  The fact that a young female Maine Coon was selected was unusual because male Maine Coons tend to be the winners as they’re larger.  However, the judge chose this female because of her healthy conformation.  It sent a clear message to everyone at the show – looks are important, but small ears etc. will change in a growing cat, and health should always come first.

(I wasn’t able to include photos of cow-hocked cats, but for an illustration, there is a good article on normal and abnormal feline structure on the Cat Fancier’s site:


Update 16 May 2007:  a friend of mine who has dogs, sent me some tips on how to improve the condition by strenghtening the hind leg muscles, so that a dog will carry itself better.  This should hopefully reduce any hip-related problems in later life.  One way to develop hind leg muscles is to take the dog swimming or run the dog uphill.  She did say that she didn’t think a cat would do either activity (!), but cats do like climbing, so a good tall cat tree the cat can shimmy up might work.


Can a kitten lose its whiskers?

5 May, 2007

I met a kitten at the recent TICA Easter Purrade cat show.  It looked as though its whiskers had been snipped by a pair of scissors and they stuck out like paint brush bristles.

The judge was tickled pink.  The kitten was real cute, with huge eyes.  The fact that its whiskers had been shortened was no penalty in the judge’s eyes.

I’m not sure how a kitten would lose part of its whiskers.  I’ve heard from breeders that some mother cats can be overzealous in grooming kittens, often biting off the whiskers close to the base, at the muzzle.  Now, why should this be?

A cat’s whiskers are attached to nerves in the muzzle, and are very sensitive, like antennae.  A cat uses its whiskers to feel its way around its surroundings.  When a cat walks, it moves its head around to sense what’s around.  A cat comes to rely on its whiskers like a sixth sense, to walk the world confidently.

So, it could be that mother cats shorten their kittens’ whiskers in order to curtail their wandering.  That’s the theory, anyway.

However, cats do lose their whiskers in the normal course of living as well.  The occasional whisker falls out, like fur.  And kittens, being active and always up to mischief, are more prone to breaking their whiskers.  There should be no cause for concern, unless it keeps happening over a long period of time.  Another thing is that not all breeds of cats have long, lustrous whiskers.  Some cats grow long whiskers, only to have them break off.


How to prevent cats from biting through electric wires

2 May, 2007

Here are some photos of cabling/wiring before and after they were tidied up:



Neat, isn’t it?

And it’s a good safety measure if you have curious cats.  All it takes is for a cat to decide it wants to sample a wire for the cat to be electrocuted.  It’s usually fatal.  I’ve heard of a kitten that did just that – bit straight through a TV cable.  The owners were distraught.

Accidents don’t just happen and it only takes minutes to make sure your cat or kitten won’t bite through wires by mistake.

(And another reason why I was so anxious to tidy up the cabling is my Bengal girl had started sampling one of the electric wires – there were actually teeth indentations on the wire which really freaked me out)

Any excess cabling can be wound round a product called cable coil.  Any remaining dangly bits can then be bunched (up to 3 wires) and wrapped up in a cable tidy (the thing that looks like spiral binding used on a document).  It looks fiddly, but it isn’t.  The first time I tried the cable tidy, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to use and what amazing results I got.  And both cable coil and cable tidy don’t cost the earth if you buy them from e-bay.  Mind you, if you do source your cable tidy from e-bay, compare products – what seems cheap is probably for a shorter length.

(one caveat:  if you do unplug your ADSL connection in your bid to tidy-up the cabling, be very careful when re-connecting it.  I don’t know what I did, but I’ve managed to lose my ADSL connection and damage the router – I’m a source of amusement to my tecchie friends!  It was an old BT frog-type router which BT conveniently don’t support any more.  2 x 40 min phone calls to BT later, and the advice we got was:  “go to PC World and buy a new router”. )