Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is a progressively fatal viral disease seen in a relatively small number of cats each year. The virus enters through either the respiratory or intestinal system and sequesters itself preferentially in the spleen, liver and lymph nodes. Unfortunately, from the time the disease was identified in the 1960’s until the present, there is no effective treatment or vaccine to prevent the disease.
It is commonly believed that the virus is found everywhere in the environment and that almost all cats have therefore been exposed to the virus. Furthermore, of the cats that have been exposed to the virus, approximately 95% will go on to recover from the virus uneventfully. The remaining 5% of the exposed cats will go on the develop symptoms and eventually die of the disease. Once the virus has infect an individual cat he/she will shed the virus for only a short period of time. The virus can stay alive on a feeding bowl, however, for two-to-three weeks after it has been contaminated. A relatively large quantity of virus is needed for an infection to take place in a susceptible cat. FIP is more common in multiple cat households where there is frequent and close contact between cats. This disease is therefore one of the most feared diseases in catteries.
The disease is seen most frequently in kittens and in cats between six months and five years of age as well as in the geriatric group (greater than 10years). This occurs because the immune system is either immature (young) or debilitated (old). Symptoms may develop in as short as two-to-three weeks or as long as many years after the exposure has taken place. Depending on the immune system of the individual cat either the “wet” or “dry” form of the disease will be expressed. The effusive form (75%) produces fluid that fills either the abdomen or the chest while the non-effusive (25%) form attacks the nervous system, eyes, kidneys or intestinal lymph nodes. Other symptoms such as unresponsive fever, progressive weight loss and eventually anorexia and lethargy are all characteristic for FIP.
At present there is no known effective treatment against the clinically affected cat. Currently any treatment that is given is aimed at relieving the symptoms of the disease and to therefore make the cat more comfortable. In most cases cortisone has been found to be helpful along with good nursing care. It is believed that those cats that have been naturally infected with the FIP virus and recover are probably immune for life. Research is ongoing and hopefully someday soon we will have better methods of treatment and possibly a means of prevention.