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Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

June 2003

Feline Infectious Peritonitis - a killer that sneaks up and takes away the young and the old of our beloved cats.

There is no tried and true vaccine, no comprehensive test and, worst of all, no cure. And the only way to prove a case of FIP is upon the death of the victim.

FIP is part of the Corona virus family. There are more than 40 Corona viruses, of which FIP is a mutation of one. Since the test is really a titer level related to Corona virus exposure in general, there is a lot of inaccuracy as to which cats actually have FIP. Many cats successfully survive benign Corona virus infections without ever developing the fatal symptoms of FIP.

FIP is a fatal disease in cats. When the corona virus occurs in cats, itís benign. In fact, most pet cats have been exposed to the corona virus, their owners rarely know it because the cats do not get sick. However, in about three per cent of cats, this benign virus mutates into a fatal autoimmune-like disease called FIP. No one knows exactly why this happens.

While a small percentage of exposed cats will develop FIP (mostly young or old cats), once the symptoms of the disease are present, death is inevitable. Depending on the physical condition of the cat, supportive treatment may result in temporary relief of signs, but eventually the disease will progress and treatment will be unsuccessful.

There are two types of FIP. The wet form is characterized by fluid accumulation in various organs of the body, causing swelling of the abdomen and chest. It becomes difficult for the cat to breathe. Additional signs are loss of appetite, chronic fever and jaundice.

The dry form of FIP has many similar signs with the major difference being the lack of fluid accumulation. It also can affect the eyes or central nervous system.

The biggest problem with FIP is that it is not a typical infectious disease. The cat's immune system, in an attempt to protect the cat against FIP, actually speeds the process of the disease. FIP has an immuno-mediated nature and it makes fighting it really difficult.

The good news is most cats have antibodies to Corona virus, which includes FIP. The bad news is if your pet falls into the small percentage that contracts FIP. FIP literally condemns your cat to death in a short amount of time.

There is a vaccine - But you need to keep in mind that it is new, has its own problems and is not 100 percent effective.

Present recommendations:

  • Do not vaccinate for FIP unless all your titered cats have negative results, as there is a chance you may be enhancing your cat's susceptibility to the disease, rather than protecting it.
  • Don't euthanize all your cats if you suspect an FIP outbreak. Be aware that FIP strikes the weakest, and not all of your cats will develop classic FIP.
  • Reduce stress in your animals - stress impairs the immune system and healthy cats resist disease better.
  • Spay and neuter your cats so you do not have overcrowding and inbreeding. It also keeps your cats healthier in general.
  • Practice cleanliness; the major risk factors for FIP include poor sanitation, overcrowding and malnutrition. The disease is spread by faeces, ingestion and sneezing.
  • Think before you decide to vaccinate kittens for leukemia. Have them tested, the vaccine challenges the immune system.

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