If your cat suddenly becomes apathetic and feverish, eats little and his stomach is still swollen, you should pay attention. One of the most feared feline diseases can appear in your house cat: FIP, an infectious form of peritonitis triggered by a viral mutation. FIP can affect any cat and, once it is severely damaged, there is currently little chance of recovery. A preventive vaccination is possible, but its benefit is debated by experts.
What is FIP in cats?
The abbreviation FIP stands for “feline infectious peritonitis”; an infectious disease that clinically manifests itself in inflammation of the peritoneum and occasionally also attacks the pleura. This does not mean your cat’s coat of hair, but the lining of the body cavities, i.e. the shell in which the internal organs lie in the abdomen and chest. This protective skin is very sensitive and contains blood and lymph cells as well as nerves. The trigger for the global spread of the infectious disease FIP is an aggressive mutation of the feline coronavirus.
Feline coronavirus is common where cats live in confined spaces – for example in animal shelters or animal boarding houses. They attack the gastrointestinal tract and cause indigestion, which is usually mild. Up to 70 percent of the cat population are carriers of the feline coronavirus.
But the feline coronavirus itself isn’t the problem: it only becomes dangerous when it mutates into the FIP virus in the cat’s gut. Fortunately, this mutation is rare: only five to ten percent of cats carrying the feline coronavirus develop FIP. Incidentally, the FIP virus is not only found in domestic cats: The virus mutation of the feline coronavirus also occurs in big cats such as lions and leopards.
How do cats get FIP?
Cats are not infected with the FIP virus itself. It is simply caused by the mutation of feline corona viruses, which are particularly common in cats that live in close proximity to other cats. Feline corona viruses are primarily ingested through contact with feces, saliva or nasal secretions of an infected individual.
Direct transmission from cat to cat is also possible through saliva from mouth to mouth or from mouth to nose – many kittens are infected through close contact with their mothers, for example. Contaminated objects pose an additional risk: outside of a host’s body, the feline coronavirus can survive for up to seven weeks. Even humans can be intermediate carriers and transmit the virus to cats. However, there is no risk of infection from animal to human.
How do the wet and dry forms of FIP differ?
FIP causes inflammation throughout the body. Veterinary medicine distinguishes between two forms of FIP, a wet and a dry form. Which form emerges or dominates depends on the cat’s immune response. Mixed forms of the two variants also occur.
The FIP virus primarily attacks cells of the immune system. In the wet form, the so-called immune complex is formed. They are caused by the body’s response to the virus. They live in the blood vessels and cause inflammation of the blood vessels. As the disease worsens, fluid leaks from the inflamed blood vessels and accumulates in body cavities such as the abdomen or chest.
In the dry form, nodular changes (granulomas) and inflammation of organs such as the liver, kidneys and spleen occur. The dry form is divided into two variants: the ocular and the neurological form. In the ocular form, the eyes are mainly affected and in the neurological form, the nervous system – both forms can also occur at the same time.
What symptoms of FIP does a sick cat show?
Both forms are preceded by a disturbed general condition, loss of appetite, persistent fever or high temperature, runny nose, watery eyes and emaciation. A chronic fever in particular may be the first warning sign of an outbreak in a young cat.
If you’ve noticed symptoms in your pet tiger and aren’t sure if it’s FIP, our experienced veterinarians at Dr. Catkingdom online quickly and without stress. Describe your case to our veterinary team and save your cat a difficult visit to the veterinary practice. You can find out if it is necessary for diagnosis or which additional home treatment is beneficial for your cat’s health in a personal video chat.
In the wet form of FIP, as a result of inflamed blood vessels, fluid accumulates in the abdomen or, more rarely, in the chest cavity, which is manifested by swelling of the cat’s body outward. One of the best ways to tell about the wet form of FIP is that your cat’s stomach looks like a pear when you pick it up. Free fluid collects in the lower abdomen as a result of lifting and the pear shape is created. Due to the compression of the organs by fluid, shortness of breath can occur, among other things.
In the dry form, the accumulation of moisture plays a lesser role; instead, tissue nodules form in areas of inflammation, which can occur primarily in the stomach and pleura and internal organs, but also in the brain or eyes. Jaundice, various eye diseases, anemia or neurological deficits such as cramps, confusion and paralysis may also occur.
How is FIP diagnosed?
FIP is a diagnostic challenge—detection can be difficult. Although antibodies against feline coronavirus can be detected, this does not equate to FIP. Altered laboratory values in blood serum in relation to symptoms provide clues. In addition, examination of an existing effusion or a biopsy of inflamed tissue is possible for detection. Because the clinical symptoms are not specific, especially in the dry form, FIP disease is often recognized late.
What is the therapy for FIP?
With a therapy that treats the symptoms, consisting of anti-inflammatory drugs and immunosuppressants, veterinarians can buy time, but not cure the affected cat. Whether such symptomatic treatment makes sense depends on the general condition and quality of life of the affected cat.
But there is a glimmer of hope: a new antiviral drug promises a cure. It is a protease inhibitor that is said to be able to destroy the virus. However, large-scale long-term studies required for antiviral approval are still missing. However, the state of the study so far is promising: researchers at the University of California were able to use the drug in their study to cure 90 percent of 31 cats suffering from FIP. The team led by Katrin Hartmann from Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich achieved a 100% cure in 18 treated cats. It also needs to be researched whether a relapse occurs in the short or long term after stopping the drug.
Is there a FIP vaccination and how does it work?
Preventive vaccination against FIP is possible in principle, but controversially discussed in specialist groups. The vaccine serum – which is given not by injection but by putting it in the nose as a potential gateway for the virus – is ineffective if the cat is already a carrier of the feline coronavirus. It should be tested before vaccination. According to prevailing expert opinion, it makes sense to have FIP vaccination for outdoor cats and indoor cats that may react to accidentally introduced contaminated material.
Catkingdom expert Dr Tip:
“The first symptoms of feline infectious peritonitis are often vague and the diagnosis is very difficult. If your pet tiger shows signs that may indicate FIP, have it clarified by a veterinarian in time to determine the diagnosis as soon as possible It’s the only way to help the cat in the best possible way.”
What is the life expectancy of a FIP cat?
FIP usually affects younger cats between the ages of 6 and 24 months, as well as older cats. If your cat is infected with feline coronaviruses, there is a good chance that the viral mutation to the FIP virus will not occur and the disease will not appear. It is estimated that only five to ten percent of animals infected with the feline corona virus become ill. The onset of FIP disease is related to the general immune status: the risk is significantly lower in cats with a well-established immune system. Other diseases or stress factors, on the other hand, can promote an outbreak.
However, if FIP is chronic, the affected cat’s chances of survival are unfortunately very poor. The average remaining life is nine days; only five percent of diseased animals survive longer than a year. Unfortunately, there is still no effective therapy that leads to recovery, but research is being conducted on it.