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FIP, the cat killer

author Lucy Byrne | Health and diet

Two years ago, when I’ve brought home the small black cat Pantalaimon from our deposit, I was beside myself with happiness. I didn’t plan another cat, but I’ve fallen in love with him at first sight and I couldn’t resist for long. He was kind of a sprat with features of an Egyptian and a devil inside. But my happiness didn’t last long. Within half a year, all of its brothers and sisters died of FIP and even he started showing the symptoms shortly after. Since I didn’t know much about the disease until then, it struck me heavily and I took the course of the disease all the more badly. That’s why I think that every cat owner should know, that there is FIP and count with the fact, that it can appear in their cat – most often at younger age.

FIP, that is Feline Infectious Peritonitis, is an infectious inflammation of the peritoneum. The cause of this disease are viruses from the Coronaviridae family, the so-called coronaviruses. This disease with a fatal end affects apart from house cats also others from the Felidae family such as lions, lynxes or cheetahs.

Most of the cats meet the non-pathogenic coronavirus – not causing diseases –  in their lifetime, and they become the virus transmitter. However, only in a small percentage of cats, mutation of this virus in the body takes place and subsequently, the FIP breaks out. The illness itself then is not transmittable, upon the outbreak of the disease, the coronaviruses are not released into external environment anymore. The transmission of mutationless coronaviruses takes place upon mutual contact of the cats. The most common place of infection is the toilette. But it is possible to get infected even through saliva, urine or mother’s milk. The cat can get infected secondarily, if you bring the virus in on textiles or on a sole, for instance.

The mutated form of the coronavirus is, contrary to the mutationless one, capable of permeating the cells of the immunity system. In these cells, the virus then lives and reproduces, the affected cells settle into organs (liver or kidneys, for example) and cause inflammatory focuses. Since the immunity system of the organism will start to consider the affected cells as alien, the body automatically defends itself through inflammation. Because the coronavirus keeps on reproducing and attacks further and further cells, the inflammation spreads further all the way to a critical point.

This virus is so dangerous because it is a completely exceptional virus disease, unpredictable illness, whose origin still isn’t quite clear. It still hasn’t been proven, what is the trigger of mutation or the cause of inadequate reaction of the organism.

The most susceptible to becoming ill are cats with a weakened immunity system: cats after surgery, in convalescence, kittens and seniors. We have learned in the deposit, that very often, FIP followed after a stressful situation: moving, new household member, vaccination, etc. and mostly in kittens younger than two years.

The outbreak of FIP can happen no sooner than after weeks, months or even years since the first contact with a coronavirus. Up to the final stadium, it doesn’t have to be evident what kind of disease we’re dealing with. It can manifest itself by lack of appetite, weight loss, decrease in quality of fur, apathy, fever, depression or tiredness. There are two forms of the disease:

The less frequent is the dry form. It has unclear and more long-term symptoms and treatment with antibiotics is ineffective. Differences compared to a healthy state show in blood tests of the liver and the kidneys. The cat infected with the dry form may live even up to a year after the first manifestation of first symptoms.

The wet form of the disease is more frequent. In this form, liquid is released into the abdominal cavity, or even into the rib cage. Other symptoms are similar to the dry form. A cat with this form of FIP will survive about two months.

There is no prevention from the transfer of coronaviruses. The only thing that we can do for our cat is to support its immunity system, to keep it healthy and away from stress, to pay attention to the hygiene of our breed and to regular disinfection. Even though there is vaccination against FIP, it isn’t a guaranteed prevention. It prevents only infection with some types of coronaviruses, and only in cats that haven’t come into contact with the virus.

However, it seems, that finally, better times are coming in the fight against this disease. Scientists from the university in Kansas have recently come up with a theory, that the treatment shouldn’t be heading into the direction of direct liquidation of the virus through administration of antiviral drugs, but it should focus on suppression of virus reproduction. In laboratory conditions, they have even successfully treated cats in advanced FIP stadium.

We have nothing else left, but to believe, that this research will finally bring a reliable cure and again, we will be able to worry a little less for our cat companions.