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: